Our Living Seas

Turtles of Sangalaki

INDONESIA

Sangalaki Island in East Kalimantan province, Indonesia, contains one of the largest known nesting populations of green sea turtles in the Celebes Sea. Turtles nest year round at this site.

Since at least 1937, turtle eggs have been collected on this tiny island, which a half century ago reportedly attracted as many as 200 nesting turtles per night. Yet by 2000, the numbers had declined dramatically to fewer than 10 laying turtles per night. Turtle egg collection by humans, and predation of eggs and hatchlings by monitor lizards, rats, crabs, and birds of prey were taking an enormous toll. Worse still, it is estimated that of those hatchlings who make it to the sea, only 1 in 1,000 will survive in the world’s oceans to finally return to their birthplace after around 20 years, when the females are ready to produce eggs.

In 1999, some dedicated filmmakers and divers with the goal of implementing a turtle conservation program on Sangalaki formed a NGO called the Turtle Foundation. In a joint effort with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, and Kehati (an Indonesian biodiversity organization), they worked with the local government to establish a basic monitoring and conservation program, which now includes a research station on the island. Conservation efforts include leaving some nests in situ on the beach to hatch naturally, while relocating other nests to a hatchery where they are safe from predation. Hatchlings are collected each evening from the hatchery and safely released a few meters from the surf, ensuring that they all reach the sea safely. Another task of the research station’s field workers is the constant effort to keep the beaches clear of logs, driftwood, vegetation, and other debris which inhibit the newly hatched turtles on their escape to the sea, and also prevent adult turtles from preparing their nests and laying their eggs on the beaches. I hope that these conservation efforts have not come too late to preserve the habitat and protect the breeding area. However, because of the turtle’s long lifecycle, it may take 25-30 years to see an increase in the numbers of turtles returning to Sangalaki.