Indonesian Turtle Conservation

Text and photos by Camille Le Prou

As an educator living and working in Moscow, summer is often a time to relax and unwind, step back and reflect on another busy year or perhaps even pour energy into other projects. With help from Mahi-Mahi Surf Resort on Simeulue (an island off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia) this summer, I was fortunate enough to combine all facets of the aforementioned and dedicate some time to the conservation of the endangered green sea turtle.Mahi-Mahi is a friendly, New Zealand run surf resort focussed on giving back to the people of Simeulue and broadly speaking, Indonesia. In conjunction with the sustainable raw coconut oil company, Aluan, Mahi-Mahi combines surf charters with a volunteering program aimed at supporting local turtle rangers on the uninhabited Benkaru Island, one of many that make up the famous Banyak Islands.

Turtle Tracks

Baby Turtle Being Born

The importance of Benkaru is that it is where many green sea turtles return to lay their eggs, however the turtle faces many challenges to fight its way into life, and if female, eventually returning to its birth beach to lay eggs of her own. Many predators line the beach at night eagerly awaiting their turn to feast on the freshly laid eggs including shifty shore birds, slick monitor lizards, and suspicious saltwater crocodiles. But, sadly, the biggest threat of all is humans. Although illegal, humans still hunt the island for turtle eggs to sell and eat, or even the turtles themselves, so much so it is threatening the future existence of the aquatic amniote.

Beach Clean Up

The importance of volunteers’ time on the island is to support the turtle rangers in their quest to ward off potential poachers, and what a place to be. We stayed on the island for four days, a world away from electronics and life, and visited the beach several times of the night and day to either see turtles laying their eggs, or in the early morning to watch babies fight up through the sand and take their first breathe of air before descending to the beach alone. During the day we cleaned the beaches, removing as much plastic, fishing equipment and foil as we could find (the biggest culprits being plastic lighters, straws and netting); shocking to put into perspective that this island produces almost no rubbish and that it is still being polluted from the mainland and surrounding islands. Word is slowly spreading that the international community is watching and supporting the island, as the future wellbeing of the turtle depends on it.

Turtle Breaches

When our surf boat returned to the golden shores to collect us, and we had to leave our paradise, it was difficult, but we found solace in the fact that the turtle rangers do an amazing job with the support of incredibly sustainable and green minded companies like Mahi-Mahi Surf Resort and Aluan. Upon returning to Simeulue, after 7 hours on the Indian Ocean, we held a class with local school children running activities with a focus on the green sea turtle and their predators. The role of education now becomes imperative because in the teaching and learning as to the severity of the endangered situation the turtle faces, humans can understand that repopulating the creature is not impossible, but will take a change in mind set and ultimately respect for our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Camille Le Prou is Head of Visual Arts, Brookes Moscow., September 2018