Program Indonesia: General information and background

The Southeast Asian country of Indonesia consists of over 17,000 islands and is thus the largest island state in the world. Located on the border between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, its tropical seas are home to a unique diversity of species and are also part of the famous coral triangle. Of the seven existing species, six inhabit Indonesian waters and five nest regularly on its beaches. However, very little is known about Indonesia’s sea turtles compared to many other countries, and they are not well protected. This is where the Turtle Foundation’s commitment to the endangered sea turtles started. Our Indonesian projects are implemented by our local sister organisation Yayasan Penyu Indonesia (YPI).

Projects

Berau: Protection project for green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles
Sumatra: Protection project for leatherback sea turtles
Banggai: Anti turtle-shell project for hawksbill sea turtles

Location

Map Indonesia, Wikipedia

Indonesia (Map: Wikipedia)

Overview

  • Start of program: 2000

  • Number of projects: 4

  • Species in focus: Green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle

Berau: Protection of the green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles in the Derawan archipelago

Background

The Derawan archipelago off East Borneo is home to Indonesia’s largest and the world’s eighth largest nesting area of the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). The current population is only about 10% of the population 70 years ago and is still threatened by illegal egg collection. The turtle eggs are no staple food for the population, but an expensive delicacy; a turtle egg costs more than five times as much as a chicken egg! The trade in the coveted turtle eggs therefore takes on the character of organised crime, which is difficult to deal with, and poses a serious threat to the survival of the archipelago`s green turtle population.

Location

Derawan archipelago (also called Berau archipelago or berau islands), District of Berau (district capital: Tanjung Redeb), Province of East Kalimantan (province capital: Samarinda), Borneo island, Indonesia

Recent activities

Since the foundation of the Turtle Foundation in 2000, the Derawan Archipelago has been the focus of our conservation work. Here, where it all began with a first sanctuary on Sangalaki Island, we have been working in alternating project areas ever since. The aim is to save the endangered species of the green sea turtle, but also the hawksbill turtle and the leatherback turtle from imminent extinction.
After several changes in the management of the important nesting islands off the coast of East Kalimantan, we and our local partner organisation Yayasan Penyu Indonesia are currently in charge of the following conservation projects on the Derawan Islands:

  • Bilang-Bilangan and Mataha: protection of important nesting populations of green sea turtle and hawksbill turtle
  • Maratua: environmental education program with school visits and clean-ups

Bilang-Bilangan and Mataha

In the second half of 2022, the local organisation Biota Laut Berau (BLB) approached us, saying that they no longer had the financial and human resources to continue the conservation activities on the islands of Bilang-Bilangang and Mataha. It quickly became clear: we would get involved! Just in time for the turn of the year, we agreed that from now on we would work together to protect the nesting population on the two important islands of the Derawan archipelago. Because this region is indeed an internationally important nesting site for the endangered species of green sea turtle.

Berau: turtle-shell and Maratua

In addition to our activities on the nesting islands, in Berau we have continuously campaigned against the production and sale of products made from turtle shell. With persistent campaigning and reporting of violations, we have succeeded in bringing this illegal trade to an almost complete halt.

Recently, we started a cooperation to support the local population on the island of Maratua with its four villages. A staff member from our partner organization Yayasan Penyu Indonesia is now stationed in the village of Payung-Payung on Maratua to improve the environmental education.

Part of his work involves visits to schools and other institutions on the island to raise awareness around conservation and plastic issues, as well as the critical situation of sea turtles.

All activities are taking place in close cooperation with the nature conservation departments of the Ministry of the Sea and the Ministry of Forestry and Environment.

Island of Belambangan, Berau, Indonesia

Belambangan Island in the Derawan Archipelago, Berau District, Indonesia

Green sea turtle returning to the sea after egg deposition

Green sea turtle returning to the sea after egg deposition

Egg collectors on Sangalaki, Indonesia

Egg collector on Sangalaki

Verkauf von Schildkröteneiern an einem Marktstand

Sale of turtle eggs on a market stand in Berau

Education: children learning about plastic pollution and conservation

Children learning about plastic pollution and conservation

Environmental education for school kids in Berau, Indonesia

Environmental education for school children in Berau, Indonesia

Sumatra: Protection of the endangered leatherback turtles

Background

As part of an investigation into the consumption of turtle meat and eggs in the Mentawai archipelago off West Sumatra, in late autumn 2017 we discovered a nesting beach of the rare leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) on the remote island of Sipora, which had been unknown to the outside world until then  ̶  the beach at Buggeisiata. The animals nesting there belong to the subpopulation of the North-eastern Indian Ocean, about which very little is known, but which is very likely acutely threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, both the eggs and the nesting animals are regularly consumed almost completely by the local population.

Beach protection on Sipora Island

Location

Buggeisiata Beach, Betumonga Village, Sipora, Mentawai Archipelago, West Sumatra Province (Padang Capital), Indonesia

Activities

Since autumn 2017 the beach of Buggeisiata is supervised by a team of trained local rangers for the nesting season between October and May. As many nests as possible are moved to a guarded hatchery where they can develop undisturbed. Nesting and biometric data is collected by default and turtles are marked to learn more about this newly discovered population and to better protect it. No nesting leatherback turtles have been killed on this beach since we started our work.

Together with the animals that come to nest on the island of Sipora, Sumatra, which we also protect, this is a relatively small subpopulation in the north-eastern Indian Ocean, but one that is important for the genetic diversity of the species and is acutely threatened with extinction. However, we have noticed a positive development: in the last two nesting seasons (2020/21 and 2021/22), after a previous collapse in nesting numbers at Buggeisiata beach on Sipora, we happily counted 29 and 31 nests again, respectively.

Community work

In the project on Sipora, it was important from the beginning to involve the local village community in our work. Based on a participatory village analysis, we learned about the wishes of the inhabitants in 2020. Since then, we have, among other things, rebuilt a primary school in the Matuptuman district that was in need of renovation and recently built a shelter for our rangers in the style of traditional architecture. By working together with the local community, we have been able to increasingly strengthen acceptance for our conservation work over the years.

In order to make the project possible and to ensure its sustainability, its organisation and implementation is carried out in coordination and cooperation with the local village communities. Further, close cooperation is ongoing the nature conservation authority BPSPL Padang, the Indonesian Ministry Marine Affairs, and the Indian Dakshin Foundation.

Beach of Buggeisiata, Sipora, Indonesia

The beach Buggeisiata on Sipora

Ranger showing the shell of a poached leatherback sea turtles, Sipora, Indonesia

Ranger with the remains of a recently killed leatherback turtle

Hatchery for leatherback turtles; Sipora, Indonesia

Project manager on site Meriussoni Zai guards and measures a nesting leatherback turtle.

Hatchery for leatherback turtles; Sipora, Indonesia

In our hatchery the eggs of the leatherback turtles can develop undisturbed and safe from poachers.

The primary school in Matuptuman on Sipora shines in bright new colours

The primary school in Matuptuman on Sipora shines in bright new colours

Common project on Selaut Besar

Location

Beach Barat Daya on the island of Selaut Besar, Simeuluë Regency, Province of Aceh (province capital Banda Aceh), Indonesia

Activities

A few years ago, on the uninhabited island of Selaut Besar off Sumatra, we discovered a previously undiscovered nesting beach of leatherback turtles. It quickly became clear that the animals nest here regularly and in large numbers. What also makes the area special: Green sea turtles also come to nest on the beaches in Aceh province all year round, as well as occasional olive ridley turtles and hawksbill turtles to lay their eggs. As the turtles’ eggs are collected by fishermen and coconut farmers who visit the island regularly, the island’s nesting beach had to be protected. Together with the local conservation organisation Ecosystem Impact, we therefore initiated a conservation project on Selaut Besar in 2020. While Ecosystem Impact is responsible for the implementation of the project on site, we contribute the methodology of the protection measures and data collection.

As in the first project year, we can look back on a successful cooperation for the protection of sea turtles in 2022. By the end of the nesting season in February 2022, we counted a total of 19 leatherback turtle nests on Selaut Besar. In a total of 12 cases, our staff were able to find turtles nesting and measure them, as well as tagging them or evaluating those already present.

At the end of 2022, we brought a local marine biologist into the team to provide scientific support for data collection. With his help, we want to ensure that irregularities in data collection can be excluded as far as possible in the future.

Markierung einer Lederschildkröte auf Selaut Besar mit Satellitentransmitter

Satellite tagging of a leatherback turtle on Selaut Besar

Banggai: anti-turtleshell project for hawksbill sea turtles

Background

The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is considered the most beautiful of all sea turtles because of its colourful shell. But the corneous plates of their dorsal shell unfortunately also provide a much sought-after material: the so-called turtleshell. Combs, spectacle frames, decorative objects and jewellery made of turtleshell used to be widespread in these parts of the world, too, but since the international trade in turtleshell has been banned in 1977, they are mainly found in the tropical countries where the hawksbill turtle is native.

The hawksbill turtle is heavily hunted for its turtleshell and is therefore one of the most endangered sea turtle species in the world. One of the remaining populations inhabits the waters of Indonesia. Here, too, the animals are now protected, but the problem and the extent of turtleshell exploitation have not yet been sufficiently recognised by the authorities.

Location

Village Pulau Tembang, Banggai, Central-Sulawesi

Activities

To help save Indonesia’s remaining hawksbill turtles, we launched a nationwide campaign to curb the turtleshell trade in mid-2019, aiming to influence buyer behaviour and negatively connote the wearing of turtleshell jewellery. For the campaign, which started in mid-2019, an office was rented in Bali as an operational base.

In fact, only a few locals are aware of the fact that the turtles’ horn plates are pulled off while they are still alive, causing them to die in agony.
The current anti-turtleshell project developed out of our nationwide campaign, with which we have been focusing on one of the hotspots of the trade in turtleshell products since mid-2022 – the village of Pulau Tembang in the district of Banggai in Central Sulawesi.

Cooperation with fishermen

Together with our friend AlTo (Alliance for Tompotika Conservation), we conducted a participatory village analysis in Pulau Tembang to find out about the wishes of the population and the possibilities of supporting the village. For us, it is important not to criminalise the fishermen who catch turtles for financial reasons, but to find a solution together with them that can lead to an adequate life without hunting.

Besides the cultivation of red algae, which can be grown well in the region and have a good market value, we see potential in supporting better marketing of the fish catch. Furthermore, we would like to win over the fishermen for our data collection on the occurrence of hawksbill turtles and actively involve them in the work. As the animals are foraging on the coral reefs in the region, we have a good chance of obtaining data on the population occurrence there during so-called “in-water monitoring”. To do this, the turtles are caught, tagged and then released. We were able to successfully carry out this method as a pilot study in Berau in 2014.

Campaigning in the region

In addition to the project work in Pulau Tembang, we decided to also expand the tried and tested campaign work in the Banggai region, which we recently carried out nationwide to raise awareness about the practice behind the extraction of turtleshell. In addition to school visits, our local partner organisation Yayasan Penyu Indonesia organises a “Turtle Week” once a year in the district capital Luwuk. This is a series of several public events that also feature the mascot Kimi.

The anti-turtleshell project was initially funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for 18 months.

Dead, de-scaled hawksbill turtle floating in the sea; Berau, Indonesia

Dead hawksbill turtle floating on the sea in the Derawan archipelago, Indonesia 

Bracelets made from turtle-shell on sale in Banggai

Bracelets made from turtleshell on sale in Banggai

Village of Pulau Tembang in Banggai

Village of Pulau Tembang in Banggai

The women from Pulau Tembang draw a map of their island

The women from Pulau Tembang draw a map of their island