Millions of years ago, long before humans, marine turtles started coming to the undisturbed beaches of Indonesia to lay their eggs. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists all six species of marine turtles (Leatherback, Green turtle, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, Flatback and Hawksbill) that frequent Indonesian shores to nest as endangered, vulnerable or critically endangered. In 2015 we have seen only Hawksbill nests hatching (critically endangered), though Leatherback and Flatbacks are have reported to nested here in the past.
According to the Indonesian Government Regulation (PP) number 7 year 1999 concerning the Preservation of Plant and Wildlife, all sea turtles in Indonesia have been protected by law. However, turtle nesting beaches are being disturbed by tourist industry development and feeding habitats, such as coral reefs, are being destroyed by pollution and unsustainable harvesting. People in Jakarta, Bali and in other countries still eat turtle eggs – and turtles – because they are considered very healthy and festive. Many turtles are accidentally caught and drown in fishing nets each year. The critically endangered Hawksbill turtle has been hunted to the brink of extinction for its carapace to provide raw materials for the illegal ‘tortoiseshell’ trade.
The Pante Hera Turtle Conservation Center (TCC) has developed a unique approach to turtle conservation in South Flores, Indonesia. Firstly, it provides in situ protection for turtle nests. This means that eggs remain where they were laid, with nest protectors providing protection across the entire beach. This maximizes the yield of the nests and ensures as many hatchlings as possible survive into the sea. All turtle rangers that are working on Panta Hera beach are local men and are former turtle egg poachers. The nest-protectors ensure all nests are safe from human poaching and, when possible, from animal predators.
Our volunteers and researchers work beside the turtle rangers assuring the beach remains clean and support the nightly Turtle Watches by patrolling and spotting turtles as they arrive on the beach, checking on the status of nesting turtles and – if necessary – relocate the eggs to a higher, safer place on the beach if the water could wash away the nest. Providing this type of in-situ nest protection is the most effective form of turtle nest conservation. When we know a nest is due to hatch, the nest protector regularly checks for activity in the sand and guides the hatchlings to the sea – making sure crabs, birds, dogs and other land predators do not eat them. Late starters are helped and might be spotted by tourists. We go through each nest after the hatchings to do egg counts and track mortality rates (about 2-3%).
The second core element of the Pante Hera TCC approach is to establish projects, which, over time become financially self-sustainable, funded predominantly by tourism revenues and completely run by the local community. Therefore all benefits from the project directly impact the livelihood of the local people who live alongside the protected wildlife.