By Luh De Suriyani
The smuggling of the endangered green turtle into the island of Bali is mostly conducted to meet the continuing demand for turtle meat for human consumption. The Balinese consider turtle meat to be a delicacy.
The Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSD) stated that the smuggling of 80 green turtles into Bali had been foiled in 2012.
Soemarsono, chairman of BKSD, shared with Bali Daily on Friday morning that: “The modes of turtle smuggling are similar with the use of water transportation and port entry, but the smugglers were clever enough to stop at different ports, especially smaller ones and traditional fishing ports, across Bali.”
He said that turtle meat was still in high demand among the Balinese and that some food stalls and restaurants serving turtle meat were still operating in Jimbaran in Badung regency and in Gianyar regency.
Green turtles are strictly protected under a decree as their population is under threat from over-harvesting of both eggs and adults, as well as from accidental mortality in fishing nets.
Green turtles are widely harvested for their meat in many tropical countries, including Indonesia, which has banned its trade and consumption since 1996.
According to data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an estimated 100,000 green turtles are killed in Indonesian and Australian waters every year. Green turtle consumption in Bali reached its peak in the late 1970s, when more than 30,000 green turtles were landed every year. In 2002, landings were estimated at 684 green turtles every year.
Despite protests by animal welfare groups and a tourist boycott of the island, turtle meat remains a delicacy among the Balinese.
Illegal and legal turtle traders in Bali often justify their activities on the grounds that turtles and turtle meat are important elements in various Hindu rituals. However, the influential Hindu High Council (PHDI) issued a bhisama (religious decree) on Aug. 31, 2005 stipulating that other animals or symbols, drawings or cakes in the forms of those animals could satisfy the ritual requirements for endangered species, including turtles, eagles, tigers and other protected animals.
The bhisama was considered a significant breakthrough for the conservation of endangered species used in religious rituals.
Soemarsono said that to maintain the green turtle population, there were several turtle breeding and conservation centers on the island, including at Serangan Island near Benoa.
“There is an unregistered turtle conservation and breeding center belonging to a British national at Lovina Beach in Buleleng regency, north Bali. We will monitor its activity,” he said. In those breeding and conservation centers, BKSD has tagged and installed microchips in 200 green turtles for identification and tracking purposes. BKSD is currently active in conducting special monitoring activities in several areas, allegedly centers of the turtle trade.
“It has been quite difficult for us to get real evidence from food establishments selling turtle meat. Sometimes, we could only find dishes made of other meats,” Soemarsono said.
BKSD also received a report from Pro Fauna animal conservation organization saying that some souvenir and handicraft shops were selling items made from turtles.
A local journalist shared his experience of visiting a restaurant selling turtle meat on Jl. Bypass Ida Bagus Mantra in Gianyar. “Some government officials asked me to accompany them eating turtle meat dishes at the restaurant.”
BKSD has launched a number of programs and strategies to protect and conserve turtle hatchings, with centers in Perancak village in Pemuteran (Buleleng, north Bali), Kuta, Tegal Besar and other locations across Bali.