On a long stretch of deserted windswept beach, between two rivers emptying to the sea, is a secret, sacred place where turtles come to lay their eggs. It is a quiet place, where light and space take precedence over too much development and still retains a feeling of wilderness.
The turtles have been coming here as long as anyone can remember and in spite of the hazards, they continue returning. After laying their eggs and shedding tears, the turtles return to the sea, and chances are, they will never see the babies they have produced.
These little turtles face a hazardous life. Even before they are hatched, they face the danger of being collected and eaten by humans, or by hungry feral dogs that roam the area.
After they hatch, and make their way to the sea, the still tiny hatchlings face more dangers, of being eaten by the many predators who roam the sea looking for food. Worse, they may become trapped in the increasingly large numbers of plastic items that float in the sea, or being caught by the huge supertrawlers who show no mercy to any kind of sealife.
If they do manage to survive these ever increasing dangers, they may make it back to lay their own eggs, some astonishing forty years later! And who knows what adventures they will experience in the interim. The miracles of nature are always astonishing.
In 2007, a local fisherman named Made Kikik took pity on the plight of these wonderful creatures and started collecting the eggs and hatching them at his own house away from the dogs and assorted egg collectors. He struggled along, keeping the hatchlings (kikik) for three months until they were stronger and more able to survive the dangers in the ocean.
With no funding and only a belief in what he was doing, he kept going, until later, he met another Balinese friend, Ketut, from the same area, who has helped him. Ketut has promoted the project, and managed to get funding and to interest guests to come and visit.
With a donation from the Gianyar Regency, they were able build their basic infrastructure for the Saba Asri Turtle Conservation Center, officially opened in 2013. The center consists of storerooms and sheltered holding tanks along with an incubation facility on land adjacent to the beach that has been donated by the government.
Now they have a place, with real tanks and a protected hatchery, where the eggs lie in the hot black sand for six weeks until they make their way to the light. It offers a greater degree of security where they rear the baby turtles until they are strong enough to make their way to their next big adventure.
After being released on the beach, the turtles stop still for a few minutes while they use some extraordinary inner mechanism akin to a GPS system, so that in forty years they will be able to make their way back to this very spot, to lay their own eggs!
The turtle eggs are protected by the local fisherman, who, for 3000 rupiah per egg, scour the beaches during the season which lasts from March till August. They bring in any eggs they find to be hatched safely at the hatchery.
There are no words to describe the emotion as you help these tiny baby creatures, stop in the black sand to memorise their bearings, before a wave comes and washes them to sea. As they take their first few paddles to their big new adventure, it is up to them and their natural instincts, to survive. It is just heart-stoppingly moving and something we all need to experience.
If you are in Bali, do come and visit the centre. For 50,000 (less than $5) you can release a turtle yourself and feel a part of something greater than yourself. The centre needs funds, both to keep the babies fed – twice a day is the requisite feeding – and to increase and develop facilities to make the centre better and more welcoming to visitors who come and learn about this wonderful process.
Most of these turtles are Ridley turtles, as even though seven of the eight species of turtles nest in Bali, some, like the green turtles are more sensitive and will only lay their eggs in white sand as the sand is that much hotter. Other varieties like the Giant leatherback turtle only lay in the beaches of Papua.
Known as the “gardeners of the sea” turtles are an essential link in marine ecosystems and help sustain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds that are at the core of the ocean’s food chain.
To arrange your morning visit to the Saba Asri Turtle Conservation Center and participate in releasing turtles please contact Ketut on 0817565485
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