Sea Turtles: Raja Ampat’s Ocean Nomads

A hawksbill turtle in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

A hawksbill turtle in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. (©CI/photo by Edy Setyawan)

Today’s guest blog from CI-Indonesia scientist Edy Setyawan is part of a series chronicling a joint coral reef health monitoring trip in Raja Ampat, Indonesia with CI, The Nature Conservancy and WWF. Blogs from this assessment are being cross-posted on The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog.

This is my first trip to Raja Ampat, and I never imagined I would get to see — and dive with — so many sea turtles.

It is the 10th day of our reef health monitoring trip, and we have recorded 17 green (Chelonia mydas) and 33 hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles in 26 of the 46 locations we have surveyed. We found eight turtles in a single dive! Most of the turtles were not disturbed by our presence as they chewed on soft corals and sponges, which are an important part of their diet.

Turtles are ocean nomads which are threatened globally and are in need of urgent protection. There are two species of turtles found in the waters of Raja Ampat: green and hawksbill turtles. According to Ismu Nur Hidayat, CI’s Raja Ampat monitoring and GIS coordinator, “Almost all uninhabited islands with sandy beaches in Raja Ampat are nesting sites for turtles.” White sandy beaches with gentle slopes are suitable for turtles to lay their eggs. There are many small islands in Raja Ampat which have these characteristics, such as Wayag-Sayang, Ayau and Misool.

Similar to other places in Indonesia, turtles in Raja Ampat are exploited for their meat and eggs. Local people still use turtle meat for both traditional feasts and daily consumption. However, in marine protected areas (MPAs) we are seeing a reduction in the exploitation of turtles. Following a traditional declaration which formalized a zoning system for the MPA, the local communities are actively patrolling the area, which is resulting in a reduction in the number of turtles exploited.

“Those people [who are exploiting turtles] have stopped catching turtles, as they feel ashamed because they have family members that are working in the MPA patrol team,” said Naftali, a local from Kofiau who is helping us with monitoring. “The traditional declaration in 2011 has resulted in the local communities protecting turtles in their MPA,” he added.

Protecting turtles by forbidding turtle exploitation is not enough. We also need to protect turtle nesting beaches. Turtles return to their home nest to lay their eggs, but they cannot do so if the beach is degraded.

In 2010, the Raja Ampat local government issued a formal letter forbidding the catching of sharks, rays, dugongs and turtles. Currently the local government is drafting a regulation to strengthen this formal letter. But this effort is still not enough — it must be followed by public awareness to build local people’s commitment and involvement in protecting turtles.

Edy Setyawan is CI-Indonesia’s Kaimana marine conservation and science officer. Read other blogs from this trip.


  1. Pingback: Sea Turtles: The Sea Nomads in Raja Ampat | Stories of My Dreams

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