Posted by: Hendra Siry | 13 January, 2009

SEA TURTLES: We cannot allow their extinction

A magnificent sea turtlenow named Dorte by her observers – was spotted in Sukamade in Banyuwangi, East Java, last February as she emerged from the ocean to lay her eggs.

After laying a clutch of 136 eggs, she was electronically tagged and then ceremoniously bade farewell by a crowd of conservationists from such distinguished organizations as the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Meru Betiri National Park, the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) West Nusa Tenggara, BKSDA Papua, TN Teluk Cendrawasih and Udayana University.

Once back in the water, this 125-kilogram creature with a shell measuring over 100 centimeters was left to swim in the vast oceans. Thanks to sophisticated satellite technology provided by WWF, Dorte’s movements were continuously tracked as this impressive green turtle made her way to Kimberley coast of Western Australia where she would feed on the sea grass bed.

Indonesia’s sandy beaches are the birthplace for many of the great species of sea turtles. Our massive archipelago sits as at the crossroads of some of the world’s most important marine “superhighways”. It is at the heart of the Coral Triangle which is the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity and is one of the world’s most important locations for marine turtles.

Along with millions of other turtle hatchlings, many years ago the fledgling Dorte would have emerged from an egg and made an instinctive nighttime sprint across the beach to avoid predators in order to reach the relative safety of the sea where she would take decades to grow to adulthood. This is one of nature’s incredible miracles.

For millions of years, some of the largest and most majestic ocean creatures — including whales, whale sharks dolphins and turtles — have been navigating Indonesia’s straits and seas on extraordinary journeys.

Satellite tracking techniques are revealing the precise routes of many of these creatures, clearly highlighting the strategic importance of Indonesia as a vital bottleneck through which a wealth of marine life travels.

Arguably, the sea turtle is the world’s most ancient mariner and ambassador for the oceans. Dorte’s forebears have been swimming in our oceans since the time when dinosaurs roamed the land. Even though their journeys take them across vast expanses of ocean, the female turtles return to lay their eggs on their same native beaches.

But today our oceans are crowded with lethal fishing hooks, lines and drag nets which are rapidly driving many turtle species towards extinction. In addition to facing the threat of becoming fatally entangled in fishing gear, many of their nesting beaches and habitats are being damaged and destroyed by insensitive development. And if that is not hazardous enough, there are all too many unscrupulous poachers stealing eggs and catching turtles for their valuable meat and shells.

During a four-month observation of 12 shrimp trawling vessels, conservationists from WWF Indonesia found that as many as 133 sea turtles were caught in their drag nets. Tragically, many have drowned by the time the nets are hauled onto the boats as they breathe through their lungs and when trapped in fishing meshes they can no longer surface for air and, therefore, suffocate.

WWF is now actively working with the shrimp industry and the Indonesian government to urgently find ways to reduce this terrible turtle bycatch. Left unabated, marine biologists predict that many species will become extinct.

In the latest assessment of the health of the Indonesian Green Turtle, scientists have found a shocking reduction of more than 80 percent in its population over the past three generations. Happily there is some encouraging news.

Last December, Indonesia attended the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in South Korea asparticipant — not yet as a full member. The Indonesian government made a clear commitment to work hard to minimize the adverse impacts of its fishing fleets on the sea turtle. A detailed paper was submitted describing various conservation measures being taken.

There are encouraging signs in places such as Australia where Green Turtle populations appear to be stable and there are documented examples of the healthy recovery of some species in other parts of the world where effective policies are being implemented.

A comprehensive program of education awareness is desperately needed. Significant investment in management, monitoring and surveillance must be made to ensure that solutions such as broad deployment of a specially designed Turtle Excluder Device by fishing trawlers and deflection systems are implemented.

Indonesia has a deep connection to the ocean for its trade and its people’s livelihoods, as well as a long and notable maritime history. Allowing the Green Turtle to become extinct could have dire ecological impacts on sea grass beds and on ocean ecosystems.

Surely this country’s fishing-dependent coastal communities must work out a way to live in harmony with our ocean’s extraordinary creatures.

Significantly, the name Dorte means “gift of God”. We must urgently find ways to live sustainably for the sake of Dorte, her fellow turtles and for Planet Earth.

Source: The Jakarta Post – January 13, 2009 By Jonathan Wootliff

Jonathan Wootliff is an independent sustainable development consultant specializing in the building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com


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