Posted by: Hendra Siry | 4 February, 2009

Taking the turtles back to the wild

With a happy smile, Isabel released the small turtles back into the sea. Goodbye, small turtles,” the 28-year-old Australian said, waving to the turtles that had started swimming further and further away toward the open sea.

She was among hundreds of local and foreign tourists taking part in the program to release turtles back into the sea at Gili Trawangan beach in North Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Releasing turtles back into their natural habitat is an annual program conducted by the community in Gili Trawangan. The activity has helped increase the number of tourists coming to the beach. The activity was possible thanks to Zaenuddin MZ, 45, who has been working to protect the turtles since 1995.

“At first I collected turtle eggs to try hatching them and raising the hatchlings. At the time, many people thought that I must have been mad to try. But it was worth all the effort because it worked and it attracted tourists, who can now see groups of turtles in the waters of Gili while diving or snorkelling,” he said.

Zaenuddin, who is better known as Dino, began to think about developing a turtle nursery at the end of 1994. At that time he saw that that many communities still consumed turtle eggs and some people caught turtles to sell. At the same time, the turtle population continued to decline.

“I thought then what a pity if this beautiful animal became extinct because their eggs kept being taken before they were able to hatch,” he said. He started to meet all the turtle egg collectors; there were seven people working as collectors then and he bought all the turtle eggs that they had, without saying that he wanted to hatch them.

One morning, a turtle egg seller came to him bringing 132 turtle eggs, which cost Rp 125 each. After paying for all those eggs Dino started to experiment. He learned the techniques from the turtle egg collector by asking him about the behaviour of the turtles’ mother; when she digs the hole in the beach, lays the eggs and covers the hole to protect the eggs.

“The name of that egg collector was Amaq Kamaluddin, he had passed away now. Maybe he was confused as to why I asked him so many questions and buried the eggs that I bought, because he thought that I would eat them,” he recalled.

Around 50 days later, out of the 132 turtle eggs, 131 hatched. Dino started to nurture them using a simple tool which looked like a black bucket. At the time Dino, who had now become a tourist guide, was only helped by his wife Saidah, 32, who managed the turtles when Dino went to work. Saidah often complained because she had to change her dress so many times a day because she got wet when she collected and changed the water used for the turtles.

Dino said that he received protests from the community – mainly when he released the young turtles back into the sea after eight or nine months – for taking care of creatures that damaged the coral ridges exposed at low tide.

“The first time I released the turtles I became the subject of a protest by the community. They considered that turtles damaged the coral ridge and ate the coral,” he said. But apparently, he added, the coral ridge which had been eaten was part of the damaged coral ridge and the turtles were in fact helping to treat it. Despite the protests, Dino continued his activities simply believing that God created the world and everything on it for a reason and in a balanced way.

Early in 2000, his efforts appeared fruitful. At least the tourists, who visited Gili Trawangan, were happy to see turtles being looked after by Dino. Some among them gave donations to help Dino cover the costs of maintaining and treating the turtles.

The costs to take care and feed the turtles are expensive. For the hundreds of turtles aged above three months, the food can cost up to Rp 100,000 ($US8.88) per day. All of these turtles are given small fishes to eat three times a day. As far as he could recall, up to late 2008, he had successfully released at least 1,800 turtles back into their natural habitat.

Now the father of three children, he owns a bungalow called Turtle Bungalow and a restaurant, Dino’s Caf‚, at the edge of Gili Trawangan beach. Out at the front, the tourists can watch the young turtles that are housed in two glass aquariums.

“It makes me happy to see the tourists happy when they see the turtles while diving or snorkelling,” he said, adding that apart from sharks, napoleon and other aquarium fish, tourists can still spot rare creatures like green and hawksbill turtles in the waters off Gili. For his work, Dino does not hope for any award but he does expect the government to pay attention, at least to reduce the exploitation of this endangered species.

“In some areas there are still many people who consume turtles’ eggs and meat. There are even many restaurants serving them. If possible, the government should control them,” he said. “Isn’t it better to have this rare animal roaming in our seas?”

Source: The Jakarta Post – January 27, 2009
By Panca Nugraha, North Lombok


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