Indonesia: Gorontalo locals told to protect turtles

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari The Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

Dudepo Island is part of a chain of islets in North Gorontalo regency, Gorontalo province, facing the Sulawesi Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The island, located some 14 kilometers away from Anggrek Seaport, can be reached by boat in around half an hour in fine weather.

It is on this fairly remote island that the Gorontalo Nusa Warna community has been holding a variety of literacy activities for the past three years. They set up a small hut, measuring 12 square meters, called the Dream Room, in which members of the community provide education in remote areas. They teach children in fishing communities how to read papers, and other skills, and guide them in various creative activities.

“We have been focusing on providing environmental awareness lately, especially in turtle conservation, because on the island, inhabited by more than 1,000 people, turtle hunting is extensive, either for consumption or [trade],” said Um Ayman Fikriani, a literacy activist from the Nusa Warna community, on Monday.

Ayman, usually called Aika, was once offered a side dish of turtle meat there. Even recently, she found fishermen bringing home green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from fishing. They were about to sell the turtles, which were still small, at the relatively cheap price of Rp 100,000 (US$7.40) each.

“I asked them to sell me a turtle. They asked me what it was for and I told them I would return it to the sea, so they refused,” she said.

Lately, she found out the turtles were not accidentally caught, but had been ordered specifically by someone in Limboto, Gorontalo regency.

Aika and her community then became more vigorous in campaigning for turtle protection on the remote island, focusing on fishermen’s elementary school-aged children.

The children were told about the important role of turtles in the marine ecosystem. Green turtles, for example, play an important role in spreading nutrients into the sea through their droppings, which become fertilizer or feed for a variety of marine life. Their existence is quite important, keeping in mind the cruising range of turtles which is quite extensive, reaching tens of thousands of kilometers.

Besides that, together with children in coastal communities, the campaign has also held beach clean-up activities. The massive volume of garbage along the coast also endangers turtle survival. Waste, especially styrofoam, can kill hatchling turtles that accidentally eat it.

The Nusa Warna community also distributed flyers to homes urging residents to not kill, consume or trade in turtles, as well as explaining the ecological reasons.

“We know it’s no easy matter, but at least we are making an effort,” said Aika.

Gorontalo is known as a turtle habitat. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, Gorontalo has at least four of them, namely the green turtle, the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

Gorontalo is home to two turtle conservation areas: Panua natural reserve in Pohuwato regency, located in the Tomini Bay region, and Popaya Mas Raja natural reserve, a Dutch heritage conservation area located in North Gorontalo regency, close to Dudepo Island.

Recently, the police caught a fisherman in waters off Torosiaje village, a floating village of the Bajo ethnic community in Pohuwato, carrying a green turtle on his boat.

“Our members provided counselling for the man and released the turtle back into the sea,” said Gorontalo Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Santoso.

Torosiaje community figure Umar Pasandre said the practice of turtle hunting was taking place due to demand. A turtle can fetch between Rp 100,000 and Rp 300,000 depending on its size.

Some also order them, for a variety of reasons, such as to be served as side dishes at weddings, as a tola-tola snack and as an accompaniment for traditional liquor.