I have written about the negative side of animal tourism before, but while in Bali, I experienced one on the positive side. Releasing baby sea turtles.
Bali Sea Turtle Society.
When I first came across this experience, I was skeptical. Generally, when dealing with animals in combination with the tourism industry, I am dubious. There are so many ways it can be done badly, and usually, it is. As always, I did my research before deciding it was an experience in which I felt comfortable participating.
This is a practice I urge all travelers to implement in their future adventures. Always make sure what you are doing does not interfere with the well being of anyone/thing… whether that be an animal, the environment or even the local citizenry.
BSTS is a non-profit working with the local community in Bali to protect these endangered species. They educate locals about their importance to the ecosystem and the benefits of their survival. It was easy to glean from their website and marketing materials that they put the welfare of the animal first. A good marker for whether or not an organization is acting responsibly is how they interact with the animals, and allow others to interact. BSTS is very strict about NOT TOUCHING the turtles, which gave me comfort that the turtles are their number one priority.
BSTS in Action.
Local volunteers are recruited to help with their 3 main points of action: nest protection – education – campaigning. The most obvious to the outside observer is the nest protection. Kuta Beach, an incredibly popular tourist destination, is also a popular area for nesting turtles. To protect the eggs, volunteers patrol the beach at night watching for nesting mothers. When one is found, the volunteers ensure that her laying process is not disturbed.
Afterwards, the eggs are collected and carefully transported to the BSTS HQ right by the beach. It is an easy place to spot, with a comically large faux “momma” turtle out front. Inside is where the eggs are reburied, marked, and allowed to hatch in a safe, protected environment. Once the turtles have hatched, BSTS puts out a notice on their Facebook page, as well as a flyer at their HQ, announcing a baby sea turtle release and call for participants.
How it works.
I lucked into realizing we were in Bali for peak releasing season. Nearly everyday in August BSTS conducts a release. When planning on where to spend our last few days after visiting Komodo National Park, I made sure to stick close to Kuta.
All we had to do was arrive early enough to receive a voucher for release. Vouchers begin to be distributed at 4:00p, but I (and BSTS) suggest you arrive a bit early to make sure you get one. We got there around 3:30 and were probably about 10 back from the beginning of the line. Once we got our voucher, we had a little time to kill before the release started at 4:30. We just grabbed a seat on the beach and got a couple of drinks from an enterprising local with a cooler. Right at 4:30, the organizer sounded his bullhorn and a horde of excited tourists gathered round, clutching our free, yet priceless paper slips. No voucher, no turtle.
Before any turtle action, BSTS introduced their organization and a bit of its history – founded in 2011. We were all given very clear instructions as to how the release would go down, and were reminded not to touch the turtles. Barely a day old, they are susceptible to foreign human germs as well as physical harm from being handled. Each participant was given a little plastic container with which an official BSTS volunteer would scoop out a baby turtle. For the amount of people present, it was a fairly organized process. In a single file line, we all picked up our containers, handed them off to scoop up the babies, then marched off towards the beach where a blue line was laid in the sand. We were told to toe the line and wait for further instructions.
The big moment.
This obviously made quite a spectacle and gathered quite a crowd. The head of the organization began informing all the spectators as to what was about to happen. Before long we were told to bend down to the ground and flop our little buddies onto the sand and let mother nature take over.
Baby sea turtles are programmed to do one thing, crawl toward the water. How do they know which way the water is? The moonlight! This is one way that modern conveniences have interfered with mother nature. Oftentimes in today’s 24-hour LED lit world, baby turtles get confuddled and crawl away from the ocean. Confusing the brighter glow of the local 7-11 for the moon, they die before they ever have a chance to make it to their natural habitat.
As these guys were being released around sunset, with essentially a blockade of humans preventing them from veering off course, they all made it to the ocean. Unfortunately, only 1 in 100 will survive to adulthood. This fact was devastating to hear over the loud speaker as we watched our little swimmers struggle through the sand to make it to the ocean. Each and every one of us willing ours to be the survivor. I’m still rooting for you, Chaz.
Go Release a Baby Sea Turtle with BSTS.
Heading to Bali? Visit Bali Sea Turtle Society for a release! It is completely free (I know!). Hatching season is from April to October each year; keep an eye on their Facebook page to know when a release is happening. As they cannot predict this, it is usually short notice (generally a day before or less).
Not heading to Bali? Especially now, with the fear of Mount Agung’s imminent eruption, Bali’s livelihood is hanging in the balance. A tiny island where tourism comprises most of its economy, non-profit organizations could definitely do with a helping hand. Donate to Bali Sea Turtle Society to ensure that their amazing work can continue in the wake of these uncertain economic times.
Wanna go release baby turtles in Bali? Do you think BSTS is doing a good job? Let me know in the comments!