By Jake Cohen (The Nature Conservacy)
The turtles of Runduma are learning that it's okay to come out of their shells.
That wasn't always the case. While the small Indonesian island of Runduma supports nearly a hundred nesting sea turtles each nesting season, it's also home to a community of 500 people that once drew income from capturing turtles and their eggs.
A joint program between The Nature Conservancy and WWF-Indonesia is turning Runduma into a safe haven for the endangered Green sea turtle while also creating livelihood opportunities for its human neighbors.
"Our work in Runduma — within the context of conserving the areas's marine resources — is preserving habitat for sea turtles at a time when the biggest threat they face is an inability to find good nesting ground," says Johannes Subijanto of the Conservancy's Indonesia program. "The local community has also supported the turtles and developed an encouraging interest in conservation."
A Taste for Turtles
In the past, Runduma was not the safest port of call for sea turtles. For many years, residents of the island relied on the reptiles as a food source — turtles are considered to be a delicacy in many parts of Indonesia.
Dutch colonial rule exacerbated the human threat to turtles. Villagers captured turtles and their eggs, knowing they were valuable trade items. Turtles and turtle products were a huge boon to the local economy, and the animals were exploited to the point where they were nearly eradicated from the Runduma area.
While all sea turtle species received protection thanks to a national decree in 1999, the turtle trade persisted in many areas of Indonesia. But in 2003, the Conservancy and WWF began working in the area to support Indonesia's National Park Authority, and the outlook for turtles improved.
An Appetite for Conservation
Runduma sits just outside the northeastern border of Wakatobi National Park, a 3.4-million-acre expanse of islands and sea at the heart of a partnership between WWF and the Conservancy. Much of the last decade has been spent improving local management practices and combating overfishing and destructive fishing practices within the park. Those innovations have created an appetite for conservation that has been persuasive, both to local government and people.
In 2005, the Runduma community issued a declaration banning the harvesting and trading of both turtles and their eggs. At around the same time, the Conservancy — in conjunction with WWF and the Park Authority — launched a community program around sea turtles.
Monitoring the number of nesting turtles on both Runduma and nearby Anano, a small, uninhabited island.
Moving the nests and eggs of sea turtles to safer locations if they appear to be endangered by their proximity to either the shoreline or predators.
From Food to Family
The Joint Program provides training to Beach Patrol members, the people from the Runduma community who learn how to monitor turtles and transport their nests in ways that don't harm the eggs. During nesting season, which occurs from September through December each year, park rangers lead patrols of two or three Beach Patrol members through turtle beaches every day.
The program has garnered support from the local Wakatobi government, which has agreed to help pay the Beach Patrol members and is aiding in the construction of a ranger station. That assistance has reduced the pressure on the people of Runduma to illegally capture turtles.
Another initiative — called the Adopt-a-Turtle program — allows locals to help support specific nests. The adoptive parents receive a string of photographs detailing the development of their chosen nest from Beach Patrol members.
It's a remarkable achievement given the previously tense relationship between humans and turtles in Indonesia. The Green sea turtle has gone from food to family.
June 21, 2011