On a sunny morning at Bali’s Nusa Dua beach, 240 sea turtle hatchlings got a little help from friends to begin a journey traveled by their ancestors for millions of years.
Local officials of Badung Regency and members of the Kuta Turtle Conservation Group, the Serangan Turtle Conservation Group, and Conservation International (CI) were joined by curious onlookers in releasing the tiny olive ridley and green sea turtles into the ocean as a side event at U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island.
The baby turtles, smaller than your hand, scampered on their flippers across the sand and into the water, watched and in some cases prodded by throngs of onlookers and a large international media contingent.
"These species have no passport, so they migrate all over the world," event co-organizer Ketut Sarjana Putra, marine director for CI’s Indonesia program, told the crowd by loudspeaker.
He cited the threats they face wherever they go: ill-planned coastal development that destroys nesting beaches; natural predators on land and sea, including humans who eat the turtles and their eggs; and garbage and other pollution.
Now climate change poses a potentially more devastating threat, he said. Rising ocean levels mean the loss of more nesting beaches, while warmer temperatures affect the reproduction process by causing more females than males to hatch. Eventually, such an imbalance will doom affected species, Putra said. He suggested a mitigation strategy: plant more coastal trees to provide shade for the turtle nests, keeping them cooler.
The olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is listed as Vulnerable and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) as Endangered, meaning threatened with extinction, by the IUCN. They are most vulnerable as eggs incubating in nests on the beach, and then when they hatch and scramble to their ocean home. The hatchlings released on Bali were from eggs kept in protected nests, then allowed to reach the ocean free of preying birds and other threats.
"They have a less than 1 percent chance of surviving to adulthood," Putra noted. "We’re just trying to give them a little help here at the start."
The turtle release was one of several events by host Indonesia to emphasize the nation’s remarkable biological diversity during the U.N. talks on a blueprint for confronting climate change. In previous days, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a new Orangutan Action Plan, and more than two dozen captive-bred Bali starlings (Leucopsar rothschildi) were released in a national park to more than double the population in the wild of the Critically Endangered species.