There was a certain magic to the moment – the tiny baby turtle slowly stepped off my hand, took his first uncertain steps in the wet sand and then suddenly quite sure of what he was doing started making his way towards the ocean at a rather suprising speed. With the next wave flooding the beach and pulling back into the sea, baby turtle was gone. “Back to Nature”, the old Balinese man next to me said smiling. He takes care of the baby turtles in a unique project that combines turtle conservation with eco-tourism.
The release of the baby turtles was part of a one-day excursion to Perancak with JED-Tours. Perancak, a small village on the western coast of Bali, is home to a small community-run turtle conservation program. The turtles have been driven close to local exctinction by over-hunting, since the turtle eggs, that the turtles lay in the beaches around Perancak, are considered a delicatesse. After the first turtle in 37 seven years landed to nest on Perancak beach in 1997, a conservation program was launched in a cooperation between the local villagers and an international NGO. The program aimed at saving the new turtle nests from predators and – more importantly – from poachers hoping to sell the eggs on the markets (if you want to read more on the history and the success of the program I recommend the articel “Empty seas and hard Times” by Inside Indonesia)
Up to this day the volunteers collect the turtle eggs and re-bury them in a secured zone, where the baby turtles hatch. The baby turtles are then released into the ocean. The program has been a success so far, the numbers of turtle nests discovered and eggs that are brought to safety are rising each year. And in making the programm part of an excursion for tourists, its costs can be covered. And the excursion was well worth it: I enjoyed a beautiful day in Pencarak, got to learn a lot about sea turtles and visit the program site. And while we waited for the tide to turn – so that our baby turtles wouldnt be smashed against the rocks right when they were supposed to reclaim their freedom – I was taken on a walk through the village and got to see the beautifully painted fishing boats and the traditional village instruments.
When shortly after 3 pm the sea finally calmed down, it was time for the release of the newly hatched baby turtles. Slowly I stepped onto the beach and carefully set the baby turtle down onto the beach. And I couldnt help but smile with joy as I saw the little fellow run off towards the sea with an unmistaken instinct on where he would find his home.
JED – Village Ecotourism Network Bali offers five different village tours ranging from one-day-excursions to overnight stays with local families. The network aims at empowering the local communities in strengthening their economic self-sufficiency, but it also emphazises the importance of sustainable and eco-friendly agriculture and tourism. JED principles include that each program is planned and managed by the community in each village, the funds generated through tourism support the community development and environmental conservation activities, it aims to strengthen transparent and democratic decision-making and cooperation in adn between the villages, the tourist-trips are designed to have minimal impact on the local environment and to foster cross-cultural understanding between Balinese locals and outside visitors.