Encountering Endangered Sea Turtles

Encountering a sea turtle is one of the most exciting encounters for any marine enthusiast. These long lived and gentle creatures are found throughout tropical and temperate seas of the world. There are seven species of sea turtle on Earth and six of them are found in Indonesian waters. The leatherback, green, olive ridley, flatback, hawksbill, and loggerhead are all present in and around the archipelago.

Green Sea Turtle
Green turtle, Chelonia mydas

Where Do We See Sea Turtles

The Samata travels throughout the country and visits many of the most exciting destinations. With itineraries that include Raja Ampat, the Banda Sea, Flores, and Komodo, we visit many of the worlds finest reefs. One of the most important reef dwellers is the hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata. These industrious swimmers are responsible for helping regenerate many species of coral and sponge. They do this by eating sponge and then depositing it elsewhere via their poop! Hawksbills are present throughout coral reefs in the country and are the most commonly encountered turtle. In areas such as Komodo we frequently see them on almost every dive or snorkel.

The green turtle, Chelonia mynas, is another sea turtle that we frequently encounter. Although they may show up anywhere at anytime, the best place to find them consistently is the Komodo National Park. Young green turtles are omnivorous and eat a mix of crustaceans, molluscs, and jellyfish. As they grow older they mainly feed upon sea grass instead. They often come to the safety of the reef to rest or to enjoy a good cleaning by reef fish. Green turtles nest on beaches throughout Indonesia, with a few islands in East Kalimantan boasting the largest number of nests in SE Asia.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata

The Largest Sea Turtle of All

The largest of the world’s sea turtle is the leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea. This giant reptile grows to over 2 meters in length and over 700kg. Strictly a pelagic species, leatherbacks journey thousands of miles across the oceans every year on a search for jellyfish to eat. As an endangered species, their nesting beaches are of critical importance. The largest nesting site for leatherbacks in the Pacific is along the northern coast of West Papua province. Although we haven’t seen these giant sea turtles underwater, we do occasionally see one surface for a breath of air in the open water.

Hawksbill Eating
Hawksbill turtle eating sponge and coral

Other Sea Turtles in Indonesia

The three other species of sea turtles that are found in Indonesia are more rarely encountered. Loggerheads, flatbacks, and olive ridleys all nest in the area but are not seen by divers or snorkelers very often. Of these 3 species the olive ridley is perhaps the most commonly sighted.

Threats to Sea Turtles

Even though turtles are a protected species worldwide, they are under constant threat by humans. These slow moving air breathing animals are easy targets for hunters. They capture them from boats or trap them when they come to the beach to lay eggs. On many small islands they are an important source of protein for the inhabitants. As generations of turtles lay their eggs in the same place every year, the eggs are easily collected for food. Beach degradation, encroaching development, and introduced species such as pigs and dogs are all threats to turtle nets. In the open ocean, fishing practices such as long lining and purse seining nets all kill thousands of turtles every year. They also suffer from strangulation and suffocation due to plastics in the ocean.

The Samata is an avid supporter of marine conservation projects, including the protection of turtles. We work closely with several conservation NGOs in Indonesia who work locally and around the world. We are proud supporters of the Misool Foundation and Conservation International Indonesia. You can learn more about one of our more recent conservation projects tagging sharks with the Conservation International team here.

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