Protected species

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P.T. Singam, The West Australian
April 15, 2010, 12:00 pm


With its long, sandy beach and magnificent breaking waves, Kuta reputedly is the best beach in Bali. The thousands of tourists who have been making their way there since the 60s know it - and so do the sea turtles.
Despite the sea of holiday-makers and sometimes chaotic conditions, the turtles have been coming to Kuta in bigger numbers since the locals stopped killing and eating them almost 10 years ago.

Indeed, Kuta is the only tourist beach on Bali where turtles come to nest between April and September (the high season falls in June-July). Invariably, the beach becomes a scene of the happy co-existence of man and turtle, with the locals protecting the laid turtle eggs and then getting tourists to participate in the delicate but joyous task of releasing the hatched baby turtles into the sea.
Guardians Wayan, Dionisius, Utama and Agung
with a turtle statue at Kuta
"It was not like this 10 years ago," says Agung Tresna, the Kuta beach community volunteer security chief, who doubles as guardian of turtle eggs with the support of I Wayan Wiradnyana, the Bali sea turtle campaign co-ordinator of ProFauna, an Indonesian wildlife NGO.
"Balinese people used to eat turtles," he says. "They used to have turtle satay, turtle soup and lawar, a turtle meat and vegetable dish. They made ornaments from turtles and used the turtle head and body for offerings to the gods in Hindu temple ceremonies.

"But tourists, especially Australians, protested at this practice. So in 2000, the Kuta community decided to bring back nature. We decided to make the beach safe not only for people but for all life, including turtles."

ProFauna began public awareness and education campaigns to protect the turtles. It invoked Indonesia's 1990 Wildlife Act, which deems the poaching of sea turtles for meat consumption or trade illegal. Offenders face five years' jail and a 100 million rupiah fine.

"Sea turtles are an endangered species and research shows only one in 1000 baby turtles survives to adulthood," says Wayan, who is pleased most Balinese people now refrain from turtle consumption.

According to Agung, only one turtle turned up on the beach in 2002 to lay eggs. Then there were three the following year.

He used to cover the eggs with bamboo to protect them but in August 2004, he recalls, he was devastated when a big wave swept away the eggs.

Since then, he has created a makeshift hatchery, a mound of sand, near his office close to the entrance of Kuta Beach. All eggs laid on the 4km Kuta stretch, from the airport to Legian, are carefully collected and buried in the hatchery.

Plans are under way to build a permanent turtle-shaped hatchery with an education centre next to it.

Agung collected 2400 eggs in 2008 and 5000 last year and expects even more this year. He is excited about the support from locals and tourists.

As I was speaking to Agung, Phil Mulhern, of Mandurah, rocked up with his six-year-old son Blake and thrust 20,000 rupiah into Agung's hand, saying it was for the turtle program before wandering off to survey the hatchery.

"Many Australian tourists do this, they are our biggest supporters," says Agung. "The Rotary Club of Moora has helped us and there was someone from Perth who gave us titanium tags and applicators so we could tag the turtles," he says.

Agung and Wayan are now looking forward to the next few months, when they will collect the eggs and get tourists and locals to help release the newborn turtles.

Details: If you are in Kuta and want to help release baby turtles, contact Agung on 0816580145 or Wayan on 08164714188 or wayan@profauna.org.

source: http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/travel/a/-/travel/7065466/protected-species/
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