Can a Papuan tribe break tradition and trade sea turtle for pork as the chosen meat consumed during religious festivals? Yes they can – if that pig is stuffed with vegetables and Balinese spices and roasted on a spit until the skin is nice and crispy.
Actually it’s more complicated than that, but a Conservation International (CI) program with the Ayau people of Papua has proven successful at reducing the killing of Endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in an important breeding habitat off the remote Raja Ampat Archipelago in Indonesia.
The idea for an alternate meat for Christmas, New Year and other celebrations actually came from a village headman of the Christian tribe. He explained to Charles Imbir, the local CI representative, that if a worthy substitute was found they might stop eating turtles. At that point, pigs were something of a rarity in the area but after several community discussions it was decided that they would make a good alternative.
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CI had already been educating the Ayau people on marine life and many villagers, especially the older ones, recognized that there were fewer turtles in the water than years before. CI taught the Ayau where the turtles hatched, where they bred, where they fed – and found out that there was a lot that they didn’t know.
“They didn’t understand how much hunting affected the population,” says Ketut Putra, marine director of Conservation International – Indonesia. “They thought that turtles would never go extinct. But when we asked them to compare the current population with the last 50 years, they said it had very much declined.”
The Benefits of Breeding Pigs
So CI’s education program helped the people of Ayau make the connection and understand that their hunting was probably unsustainable. But when the Ayau leaders first proposed that CI give them six hogs for Christmas ceremonies, Putra’s first reaction wasn’t positive. “I said, ‘No, it’s not sustainable.’ We would only agree to helping them learn to raise the pigs locally and sustainably for the long term.”
With a little research, CI found that a sustainable piggery system was already being used in Bali. Called the Reaktor Biogas system, the method collects pig waste and processes it into biogas for cooking, and compost for crops.
In November 2007, CI brought headmen from an Ayau village to Bali for a training program on pig husbandry and the biogas system taught by Professor Made Mastika of Udayana University. Professor Mastika then went back to Raja Ampat with the headmen to set up a pilot piggery with the help of the CI team.
LEARN MORE: Marine conservation education initiative in Raja Ampat, Indonesia
CI agreed to provide the piggery system, equipment, training and initial pigs including a pregnant sow. In return, the Ayau village would pledge not to hunt turtles and provide all the labor and materials for the project.
The first Christmas pig feast in December 2007 was an eye opener for the Ayau people. Bali's own Mangku Buidiasa, an assistant to Professor Mastika, led the preparation of babi guling-style roast pig seasoned with cumin, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and cassava leaves – and the locals loved it.
Since that Christmas feast, turtle poaching from Ayau hunters has dropped to almost zero. In their old hunting ground – the major nesting beaches of Piai and Sayang – local non-profit The Papuan Sea Turtle Foundation has recorded and protected nearly 1,700 green turtle nests in 2008. This represents an increase of over 70 percent in successful nestings in the same rookery in 2007, the first year in which the anti-poaching program was implemented. While this is not a sure sign of long-term recovery, the fact that 2009 nestings already look set to improve yet again on last year's record is very encouraging.
Conservation International now plans to expand the program to all the villages in Ayau, with a total of 24 small piggeries spread over four islands and five villages.
“It’s a win-win,” says Putra. “The community now has the ability to grow crops, to raise pigs, to cook pigs. They have new skills.”
And the sea turtles have a better chance to survive.
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