While in Bali this past July, we participated in a sea turtle release with the Bali Sea Turtle Society which was one of our most memorable experiences of the trip. I’ve mentioned the turtle release on my Snapshots from Bali and Activities with Kids in Bali posts, and in this one I’ll be expanding a bit more on the important work this non-profit organization does, how our afternoon went and how you too can participate if you plan on visiting Bali.
With nearly 55,000 km of coastline – the second longest globally (Canada is #1) – Indonesian waters are home to the most diverse marine life in the world. Of the seven species of sea turtles that exist, six can be found off Indonesia’s coasts; those are the loggerhead, green turtle, hawksbill, olive ridley, flatback and leatherback.
Although these turtles are protected by Indonesian law, the country has sadly also been a centre of illegal turtle trade for decades – with Bali the hub for poaching and the illegal sale of turtle meat, eggs and body parts. Green turtles are the most traded for their meat, while the critically endangered hawksbill turtle is poached for its shell to make tourist souvenirs.
Despite confiscation operations and law enforcement by local authorities in recent years that have led to a decrease in illegal trade, turtle poaching continues to be a very serious threat to Bali’s sea turtles.
An organisation that has been making efforts to protect local sea turtles is the non-profit Bali Sea Turtle Society (BSTS), that since 2011, has worked to involve and train the local community through nest protection, a human education program and public awareness campaigns.
BSTS Turtle Rangers protect sea turtles’ nests by patrolling Bali’s beaches at night to find nesting sea turtles and keep people a safe distance away. When they’re ready to lay their eggs, mother sea turtles emerge from the ocean (usually at night) to find a suitable nesting site above the high tide line and dig a nest in the sand.
Depending on the species, sea turtles lay between 80 to 120 eggs, then cover their nests and return to the ocean. Once the mother sea turtle has left her nest, she never returns to tend it. BSTS collects the eggs to be hatched safely at their centre, protecting them from poachers, dogs and beach traffic.
Turtle eggs take between 45-60 days to develop and hatch and once the turtles have hatched (typically during the evening), BSTS invites visitors to help release the turtles to sea the following afternoon at Kuta Beach.
During our trip, I kept a close eye on BSTS’s daily updates on Instagram. Summer is the busiest period and a release was happening every single day, but we kept missing one after the other, either because we’d be out on a day trip or Little T would be taking his nap, which we all know is a sacred time.
The day before leaving Bali, I blocked off the afternoon for the turtle release, but didn’t see an update until about 3pm that a release was scheduled for that afternoon with tokens handed out at 4pm.
We almost immediately jumped into a taxi to get to Kuta. Traffic was ridiculous as usual but we managed to get there just after 4pm. There was a huge crowd and no more tokens, but the staff said there were plenty of turtles and a good chance we’d still receive one even without a token, especially as children have priority.
We were lucky and ended up receiving a turtle to slowly carry to the beach, careful not to touch it or let it slip out of the container. Which was more difficult than it sounds since the whole time, the turtle was clambering desperately to get over the side of the container. You can see in the photo above that the turtles are all swimming towards one side of the big tub, pointing towards the beach, which is due to an innate ability that helps direct them to sea.
Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move towards the brightest direction, which on a natural beach, is the light of the open horizon.
Once everyone with a turtle was standing in a row facing the water, the staff members told us to carefully tip the plastic containers so the turtles could move onto the sand. We were standing behind the blue rope and our turtle slid out onto the sand then turned towards the beach.
The crowd cheered the turtles on with “Go, baby, go!” while we watched them scurry frantically across the sand until they disappeared into the waves. As the turtles advanced, BSTS volunteers would move the rope slightly forward so everyone could move closer to watch the turtles at a safe distance.
Turtles are born with the ability to swim, and once in the ocean, they spend the first 7-10 years of their lives swimming thousands and thousands of miles – many in excess of 1200 miles a day! Males rarely return to land within their lifetime while females return only to nest – interestingly at the same beach!
Sea turtles are extraordinary creatures and releasing a newly hatched turtle to sea was an amazing experience we still talk about. The Bali Sea Turtle Society are doing great work protecting local sea turtles and increasing awareness about their plight and I’m very grateful that we could participate in a release during our visit. If you’re heading to Bali, I highly recommend getting involved!
Bali Sea Turtle Society, Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Releases typically happen between March and October, most frequently during the summer months. The number of released turtles will vary day by day – definitely get there early as it does get busy.
BSTS announces the turtle release times on Facebook and Instagram. Tokens are free and handed out between 3pm to 4pm on a first come, first served basis ahead of the release (which usually happens at about 4.30pm). One token will entitle you to release one baby turtle.
BSTS can’t predict when the eggs will hatch, so do keep an eye on social media for updates typically in the late morning or early afternoon about the next release date and time.
Bali Sea Turtle Society’s Conservation Center is located on Kuta Beach, next to the Grand Inna Kuta. If you’re coming by taxi, you can access the beach at the end of Jl. Pantai Kuta, near the Hard Rock Café. Then turn left on the pedestrian walkway and you’ll find the center on your left. You can’t miss the huge turtle sculpture where the eggs are kept.
You can support this non-profit organisation’s conservation efforts by donating cash at the conservation center, or donating online on the BSTS Simply Giving webpage.
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