With sea turtle population under threat, conservationists asked to leave
By Tunggadewa Mattangkilang
Balikpapan, Indonesia — Thousands of sea turtle eggs and offspring in East Kalimantan are under threat, a leading environmental group warned on Sunday, after a land dispute involving the turtle’s breeding ground forced all conservation officials off the premises.
Rusli Andar, marine coordinator for the Berau district office of WWF Indonesia, said that since last week sea turtle conservation efforts had stopped in the Sangalaki island of Berau because several residents protested the conservationist’s presence.
“The hatched eggs produce baby sea turtles, and a lot of them couldn’t get out [of] the sands. This is what conservation officials have tried to monitor [in order] to save the sea turtles,” he said.
Rusli noted there are 20 to 30 breeding sites scattered across the island, which is also a popular diving site, and each spot can produce up to 100 eggs.
But locals have been complaining about the harsh treatment they have been getting from conservationists, who have been accusing them of stealing the eggs. Locals in the area recently told the Tribun Kaltim newspaper that conservation officials have even extorted fishermen.
“For nearly 10 years, we have been nothing but spectators,” one local, Yakobus, told the newspaper, adding that conservationists are also seeking control of the island’s management. “We are asking Sangalaki to be free [of conservationists].”
But the chairman of the Berau Sea Turtle Foundation, Ahang Moord, said that with locals driving conservationists out of the island, the creature’s population is under threat, particularly in September to November, the turtle’s mating season.
“Officials there are tasked with relocating the hatchery two to four times a day to prevent sea turtles from dying,” he said.
Ahang added that conservationists in the island have been relocating eggs to softer sands and areas with less predators like rats, lizards and birds. “We can only hope that the locals and the conservation agency can resolve this dispute soon, because a lot of damage is being done,” he said.
The island is now guarded by the local police to prevent poachers from stealing the eggs and locals from occupying the island. But East Kalimantan conservation chief Muhammad Zaidi added that police are not trained and tasked with saving the turtles.
“We will quickly resolve the matter with the locals. We shall accommodate their demands but still prioritize the existing rules because this area is a conservation area protected under the law,” he said.