Jakarta (ANTARA News)- Several inhabitants of Sao Village, Mentawai Island, West Sumatra Province, must be overjoyed when they found a 75-kg sea turtle being stranded in a beach.

They cooked the turtle and distributed its meat to their relatives and neighbors on March 24, 2013. Unfortunately, "the party" turned into a tragedy when several people started to fall ill after eating the turtle meat.

Four children aged between four to 11 years old died and 148 people fell ill and had to be treated in nearby hospitals suspectedly due to the turtle meat poisoning, Warta Siritoitet of the Mentawai health office, said in Mentawai District on March 27, 2013.

Despite the fact that the Indonesia government has banned the trade and consumption of sea turtles, which are considered endangered animals, sea turtle meat and eggs are seen as delicacies in several parts of the country.

Indonesia`s Muslims, the majority of the country`s population, are not allowed ("haram") to eat turtle meat, but some of them eat turtle eggs. While, in other areas with non-Muslim population such as in Bali, Mentawai Island and Kei Islands (Maluku), turtle meats are important for ceremonies and food.

Last year, Indonesian police confiscated 33 endangered sea turtles believed to be headed for local restaurants on the resort island of Bali. Turtle meat is a traditional delicacy in Bali, the only province with a Hindu majority in Indonesia`s Muslim-dominated archipelago.

Amid international concerns about the endangered species` dwindling numbers, the authorities have tightened the supervision of illegal trade of turtles and encouraged the preservation and conservation of the reptiles.

Sea turtles live primarily in the ocean and are categorized as reptiles which lay eggs, have scales, breathe through lungs and have a 3 or 4-chambered heart. Even though these turtles live in the ocean, they are related to land turtles.

All turtle species are classified as threatened species and listed in the red list of IUCN. Of the world`s seven species, Indonesia has six species of sea turtles which are on the brink of extinction.

They are green turtles (Chelonia mydas), loggerheads (Carreta carreta), hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata), olive`s ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea), and leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea).

Hawksbill turtle and leatherback turtle are critically endangered due to extensive hunting. The population of Hawksbill turtle in the country has reportedly declined by 80 percent over the past decades.

To help protect the endangered reptiles, the government has encouraged the conservation efforts of sea turtles by establishing breeding sites and turtle hatchling releases into sea.

Last year, Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan led the release of around 2,000 hatchlings on Sangalaki Island, Berau, East Kalimantan Province.

"Sea Turtle is protected animal and included in the appendix 1 category. We fully support the conservation efforts of sea turtles. Don`t hesitate to ask for funding allocation for turtle conservation activities that involve local community,," Zulkifli Hasan said.

"One of the major predators of sea turtle is people. Most of the turtle eggs were exported to China. But the poaching activities have decreased now," Bambang Supriyanto, a director of the forestry ministry said on the occasion.

Animals such as big lizards, pigs, dogs and monkeys are also common predators. Sea pollutants like oil and plastic wastes threaten the sea turtle survival.

In Bengkulu Province, which is located on Sumatra Island, three species of turtles, namely green turtle, hawksbills, and olive ridley sea turtles, live along the coastal area of the Air Hitam and Air Rami reserves in Mukomuko District.

The Bengkulu Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has set a hatching target of 1,500 turtle eggs in two conservation locations run by local community groups this year.

The two community groups running turtle conservation areas under the supervision of BKSDA Bengkulu are "Penyu Lestari" Group in Retak Ilir village and the Nature and Environment-Loving Youth Group in Air Hitam village, Mukomuko District.

They have voluntarily helped the turtle conservation efforts because of their concern about the survival of turtles in the district. Turtle eggs are often stolen from their natural nesting beaches and traded illegally in the region.

"In 2012, we hatched 570 turtle eggs and the hatchlings were released into sea, their habitat. This year`s target is to hatch 1,500 eggs," Rasyidin Prima of the Mukomuko BKSDA said in Bengkulu on March 26, 2013.

During the January-March 2013 period, 362 eggs had been hatched and the hatchlings had been released into the nearest habitat.

On March 17, 2013 alone, Bengkulu BKSDA released around 200 turtle hatchlings in Pasir Putih beach.

Turtles have been protected by the Indonesian government, but turtles poaching and illegal trading were still rampant in the country, Bengkulu BKSDA Chief Anggoro Dwi Sujianto said on the occasion.

Turtles that hatch naturally in Bengkulu beaches do not only come from the province but also from Thailand. Thai turtles come to Bengkulu waters only to lay their eggs, and they then disappear in Indian oceans.

In West Nusa Tenggara Province, the population of green sea turtles has been threatened by rampant poaching and illegal trading of turtle eggs.

"The sea turtle smuggling is still rampant too. In 2012, in cooperation with the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry and the Indonesian Military, we managed to foil an attempt to smuggle 385 sea turtles from Sumbawa waters into Bali," spokesperson of the Indonesia World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) of Nusa Tenggara Region Ridha Hakim said in Mataram recently.

The West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA), in cooperation with mining company PT Newmonth Nusa Tenggara (NTT), has conducted conservation of green turtles in the province.

The mining company is committed to protect the green sea turtles, Tri Endang Wahyuni of the NTB BKSDA said here on Monday.

PT NTT has established Malu Turtle Conservation Center in Maluk Beach, West Sumbawa, NTB, in cooperation with local NGO Pelangi Biru Foundation, she said.

Under the conservation program, thousands of turtle hatchlings had been released to West Sumbawa coastal area and the turtle population has been continuously monitored.

Some people said watching baby sea turtles, known as "hatchlings", struggling out of the nest and make their way to the sea is an emotional experience. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Several NGOs including ProFauna Indonesia, however, have criticized the releases of sea turtle hatchlings as a tourist attraction, which are now common in Bali`s five-star hotels.

NGO activists said the baby sea turtle releases were actually designed as a tourist show in the guise of conservation.

"Most of these hatchlings are brought in from outside the island of Bali, from places like East or West Java. It`s a scam, and should not be justified because it only benefits the PR machines of the hotels involved," ProFauna Indonesia chairman Rosek Perancak Nursahid

was once quoted as saying by the media.


Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Jafar M Sidik
Copyright © ANTARA 2013