Why are volunteers so crucial for the turtle conservation in Bali?
"The volunteers you send us are not only a big help on site. When they leave they become our extended arms, informing both their home countries and others about the plight of our turtles. This is really helpful."
It seems hard to believe, but it has been reported that approximately 30,000 sea turtles have been killed in Bali since the late 90’s. The animals are being killed for the illegal trade of their eggs, meat and shells, which are used to make a variety of goods, such as accessories, soups, Satay Penyu (spit roasted turtle) and for important Hindu ceremonies. This has led to near extinction of the animal. Indonesians have been their worst enemy during this time, as I Made Karse, a founder and ground staff of a turtle conservation and education center in Bali, states.
“Back in 2003, we responded as a group. The government, NGOs (Social Communities) and the media came together to find a solution. A year later, in 2004, we began the establishment of this turtle conservation center. After that, we immediately started to act.“
Opening of the turtle conservation center
“I am one of the founders who initiated the establishment of this turtle conservation,” says I Made Karse, who was born in Bali. “The most prominent activity here in this conservation is to protect the turtle eggs and monitor the hatching period to conserve the increasing population.”
Bali is one of the hot spots in the Indian and Pacific Ocean for egg deposition. Many of the turtles travel thousands of kilometers to continue the cycle and lay their eggs in the same place where they themselves once hatched. The olive ridley sea turtle is one of the 3 sea turtle species that is kept and raised in the center until it is ready to be released back to the sea.
In 2006, the turtle center was officially opened. It is accessible to anyone interested in learning more about sea turtles in Bali, their natural habitats and the activities of the center. For 3 years now, they have been receiving the help of international volunteers who actively support the conservation of the sea turtles.
The support of international volunteers
"Volunteers travel far to offer their support to the center. This makes the locals think and motivates us in our daily efforts."
According to I Made Karse, there have been many struggles in the preservation due to the high number of poachers and others that contribute to the exploitation of the sea turtles. He fights hard to achieve his goal to protect and preserve the endangered animals, which seems like a tough task with only 8 staff members working in the center. Every single one of them cherish their work. “We all have the same mission, that is, acting together to conserve the sea turtles in every way we can,” says Made. He takes this opportunity to express his gratitude towards everyone who has supported them, “We are very, very aided. First, any kind of help is great. Just knowing that our work is supported motivates us. Second, the volunteers Bali Internships send us are not only a big help on site. When they leave they become our extended arms, informing both their home countries and others about the plight of our turtles. This is really helpful.”
The humans are the sea turtles worst enemy
Three years ago it became nationally recognized that the slaughtering of sea turtles is unacceptable and hence has been prohibited by the Indonesian government and Hindu priests. The public is not well-informed about the fatal decline of the turtle population due to Indonesia’s lack of environmental awareness and education. Sea turtles are considered the “ambassadors of the ocean” (Lida Pet-Soede, biologist for tropical marine life in Bali). How we treat our ocean is how we treat the turtles. We see with our own eyes that tons of waste are washed into the sea everyday, yet we still do nothing. We do not seem to take our responsibilities as seriously as we should. Natural habitats and breeding grounds of the turtles have undergone tremendous changes, some have even disappeared. Although the threat is of a different kind nowadays, the cause can still be ascribed to only one: us.
“I also hope that our own people will be able to do the same. That local people’s hearts will be touched, that they will grow concern and soon decide to support our mission. Like in this case for example, these people come from so far away to help us. This should open our peoples eyes and show them there is a concern. This support motivates our activities here.”
Engagement and innovation is needed
“For the next step, we need feedback and insight to learn what we lack and how we can improve. This is made possible with the help of the thoughtful volunteers we are expecting in the upcoming future.”
On a daily basis volunteers support the center by feeding the turtles every morning and cleaning the 12 fresh water tanks. In addition, some sick turtles, suffering from parasites or fungi, have to be treated. Many volunteers don’t realize that their support goes beyond that. As they work, they gain new skills and learn so much about turtles, their behavior and their threats, and then become teachers, passing their knowledge on to visiting tourists. Most of the staff speak very little English and need the volunteers support as guides to the tourist. Made emphasizes how much they appreciate new innovative ideas from all volunteers, “I am very much hoping that there is not only physical help, but also to be influenced by a new way of thinking. We need feedback from outsiders on what we are lacking, what we need to improve and ideas on how to do so. There are somethings that I personally think are right, yet for someone else it is wrong, or there is a better way.”
The sea turtle population increases
Made realized early in 2006 that sharing their knowledge about the turtles is a the key to their preservation efforts, and it was worth it. “Since 2006 our working station has been known as a conservation center with the main agenda to increase the number of surviving sea turtle eggs. Since then, there has been a decrease in the number of issues that were holding us back. That was also when we welcomed our first visitors, both local and foreigners, who came to see the rescued sea turtles. We also shared information with the public, encouraging them to understand the importance of preserving and ensuring the survival of the turtles so our children and grandchildren can learn about them in the future. We continue to circulate this message to schools, children and the public.”
The result of their work is more than rewarding and Made proudly states a yearly increase of the turtle population by 30 percent. “Nowadays, even in crowded Kuta, sea turtles once again lay their eggs because the people are more and more aware of conserving and protecting Bali’s sea turtles from extinction.“
We thank I Made Karse for his time and his commitment. We hope that his work, along with our support will be a continued success. It is imperative that we remain aware of our environment and help save those who cannot save themselves.