By Alya B. Honasan
IT was serendipitous that an important meeting of Coral Triangle partners was going on in Bali at the same time we visited, as scientists, conservation experts, and government representatives from all over the world gathered to work out plans of action. That meant that a whole battery of experts was ready and able to talk about their areas of responsibility, from the live reef fish trade to climate change and even the whole confluence of efforts. In the words of Kate Newman, Managing Director of the WWF US Coral Triangle Program, this kind of cooperation and speed of action was “unprecedented.” After all had been said and done, it was great to know that people knew what they were working for, and were willing to do what had to be done.
We came face to face with a lot of hope in Bali. There’s the hope one finds in commercial fishermen like Heru Purnomo, still young but already passionate about making sure sustainable fishing becomes the norm.
Heru is straightforward about his agenda—he wants to make sure he doesn’t run out of fish to catch, as his enormous business of 38 fish cages all over the archipelago is supplied by over 10,000 fishermen, and accounts for 50% of the live reef fish exported from Indonesia. Heru’s spanking clean operation, Pulau Mas, is as high-tech as they come, with styrofoam boxes of coral trout shipped out regularly to Hong Kong and mainland China.
The hardworking Heru, who is in contact with his people by radio every single day—“I haven’t gone on a vacation in three years,” he says with a laugh—buys only from fishermen who use hook and line fishing to make sure his suppliers fish sustainably, and rejects any fish below a certain size to make sure no juveniles are caught. He laments the fact that commercial fishermen have bombed and cyanide-fished their way through western Indonesia, and is worried they might be wreaking havoc towards the east, as well. “We have to think about the future,” he says simply.
There’s even hope in the tuna industry, even as kilos and kilos are regularly landed, cleaned, packed, and shipped to Japan and the US from the Benoa Harbor.
Here, WWF observers like Mr. Soehartoyo are spreading the word about the circle hook, an alternative to the J-hook, which catches tuna just as efficiently, while reducing the incidence of turtle bycatch—apparently the circle hooks are too big for the turtles to swallow!
In my mind, however, after this visit, Bali will always be about hope for the turtles, thanks to the work of many people, among them the extraordinary Dr. Windia Adnyana, who have turned the tide for turtles in this island where 30,000 animals used to be slaughtered each year for rituals and for their meat.
Pak Guswin (as Dr. Adnyana is known) is WWF Indonesia’s “turtle man,” an erudite, funny man who trained at James Cook University in Australia, who now teaches turtle studies (turtle studies!) at Bali’s Udayana University, and of whom I am now an avowed fan.
At the Turtle Conservation and Education Center (TCEC) in Serangan, an erstwhile turtle trading center, I will never forget wading into a pool where rescued green, hawksbill, and olive ridley turtles were swimming about, bearing the marks of their natural or man-made trauma—carapaces with what looked like a shark’s bite mark, or a missing flipper ripped off by a nylon net. Then there was that video with awful footage of a turtle being separated from its shell while still alive.
The hope is in the power of religion, after some blessed leaders of the Parisada Hindu Dharma declared in 2005 that killing turtles was NOT necessary for rituals. The hope is in the fact that, as Pak Guswin says, young people who used to snack on turtle satay are now the ones releasing the hatchlings back to the sea.
I hold a hatchling in my hand at the TCEC, and I actually believe the little critter has a chance to grow up and have its own babies. I look at the bigger turtles, with their endearing faces, beautiful shells, and deliberate movements, and I think, hope never looked so gentle.