Conservation In Action: Saving Bali's Sea Turtles

  Tourists helping turtle hatchlings inch their way towards the ocean in Bali / Photo: Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times.

Tourists helping turtle hatchlings inch their way towards the ocean in Bali / Photo: Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times.

Known for its white sandy beaches and surfing-friendly waters, Bali’s Legian Beach has long been popular with tourists from across the globe. But it’s the chance to take part in a crucial conservation project that is now also attracting visitors to the Indonesian island.

Indonesia’s waters are home to six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle, each one classified as either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Coastal development, beach erosion and rising sea levels have all had an impact on populations, as well as ocean pollution and in particular plastic waste. But it is human consumption that has been putting the survival of the sea turtle most at risk, as on Bali, the reptile’s meat has traditionally been considered a delicacy.

Despite the Balinese authorities banning the catching, possessing or eating of the animals back in 1999, which has had a significant and positive impact on their plight, some smugglers and vendors remain in business and the trade in turtles has been driven underground. Writing recently in The New York Times, Richard C. Paddock reported that last year alone, Indonesia’s marine police seized more than 1,540 pounds of turtle meat on Bali. However, he also noted that the desire to save the turtle has been gaining momentum, especially among younger Balinese, and that it’s the work of a group of driven volunteers that is spearheading the campaign.

  Baby Olive Ridley Sea Turtles at the Bali Sea Turtle Society’s conservation center / Photo: Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times.

Baby Olive Ridley Sea Turtles at the Bali Sea Turtle Society’s conservation center / Photo: Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times.

I Wayan Wiradnyana, the founder of the Bali Sea Turtle Society, together with I Gusti Ngurah Tresna began trying to save sea turtles back in 2001, and in his article Paddock writes how that year, they recovered the eggs from a single nest, hatched them and released the babies. The following year, they recovered eggs from two nests, and last year, with the help of an increasing number of volunteers, including hundreds of foreign tourists, the society retrieved eggs from a record 761 nests and released some 70,000 hatchlings. “It’s the best thing we have done in Bali,” said one visitor from Australia.

This year the society is on track to rescue and release even more sea turtles, which as Paddock notes is a rare success story on this popular tourist island which struggles with environmental challenges, including shoreline trash, eroding beaches and soul-sapping traffic jams. “The most important thing about conservation is how to educate the humans,” said I Wayan Wiradnyana. “The sea turtle belongs to everyone, so everyone should take responsibility.”

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