First Time Releasing Baby Turtles – Bali Sea Turtle Society – Kuta – Bali
Having arrived in Bali late at night, we had little time to do much beyond booking into our Airbnb. Surfing, releasing baby turtles, and checking out the sunset over the Indian Ocean were all on our list, but after the travel of the previous day (plus our first case of sunburn), we decided to take it easy, finally leaving the house in the early afternoon.
So it wasn’t until about 2pm that we got to see Bali for the first time. We stepped out onto what we thought was a pavement and were immediately almost hit by a scooter.
Walking around in Bali is almost exclusively, by necessity, in single file. The abundance of scooters means that there is a lot of people moving around fairly quickly. Scooters zip between cars, speed through traffic, and swing out wide into corners. We have, on several occasions, spotted whole families on scooters, including children without helmets. We were, at one point, taken aback when traffic stopped on the road and several people drove up the slanted curb and started driving their mopeds along the pavement. On average there is a death on the roads of Bali every single day, and it’s easy to see why.
Stepping onto Kuta’s main street of Legian, we were immediately accosted by a man handing out leaflets. We made the crucial error of stopping to talk to him, and were handed a couple of folded over leaflets with perforated edges showing off a new hotel. After he showed us how to tear off the edges, in a remarkable coincidence, we happened to win money off a stay at the resort. The gentleman offered to drive us to the hotel, and after a small presentation, we’d be able to stay there. We said that we’d take the leaflets and check it out later, but the man was rather insistent about accompanying us. We wandered off whilst he was still trying to give us our prize, which was almost certainly an attempt to sell us a timeshare. Or worse.
Between the abundance of noisy, almost dangerous traffic, and the brazen approach to running scams on the street, I felt my first feeling of a culture shock on our trip. This shock was short lived, however, as Bali is full of Europeans and Australians, with a hefty smattering of Americans thrown in for good measure. We almost immediately found a surfers bar offering a plethora of Western food that had been a little more of a scarcity in Borneo. And it was good.
Appetites sated, we returned to our Airbnb and consulted our list of things that we wanted to do whilst in Kuta. Top of the list was releasing baby turtles, so we checked Google for where and when we could do it. The top post was for the Facebook group of the Bali Sea Turtle Society, and as it happened, there were scheduled to be some turtles released that day.
We headed back to Kuta beach and to the Bali Sea Turtle Society, getting there half an hour early to ensure that we could get a ticket for a turtle. At 4 they handed out the tickets, and told us to come back in half an hour. We spent the time drinking a Bintang Raddler, which was delicious and refreshing. As promised, at about half past, they handed out the turtles. We were first treated to an exuberant display, teaching about turtles and explaining the process and a little bit of the history of the Bali Sea Turtle Society. Quite interestingly, they have some financial backing from Coca Cola Indonesia and Quicksilver, amongst others. They also told us that today there would be a baby turtle race.
We were two of about 300 people who each received a little plastic takeaway pot with a baby turtle that was keen to escape. Keeping the turtle in the pot was a surprising challenge, as we’d been told not to touch them and there was no lid supplied. The turtles tenaciously tried to swim towards the ocean as we walked down the beach, and on a couple of occasions, it successfully managed to climb over the edge of the pot, only to be denied by me flicking the pot back, causing the baby turtle to fall back into the pot rather awkwardly.
Waiting for everyone else to get into position felt like an age, as we were still trying to wrangle our baby turtles. Eventually everyone was in position about 10 metres from the waters edge, on starters orders. We knelt down and waited for the signal. On three, we tilted our turtles out onto the beach, and watched them scrabble their way towards the sea. The notion of a race was a loose one, as those lagging behind were given a helping hand by the BSTS guys. Eventually a couple of swells came up onto the shore, and picked a large number of the turtles up, whilst pushing some further back. We had to be mindful not to step on them as the water washed over our feet.
The experience of releasing the baby turtles was so fun that we did it twice again over the next two days. By the third day, for some reason, a lot of the turtles were less enthusiastic, and by the time they were released, a couple were not moving at all. It was difficult to say, but they certainly gave the impression of being on their last legs before they were picked up and carried to the waters edge.
I’d given my ticket to a young Chinese child on this day, as having released two turtles already, it felt mean to deprive a small bright eyed kid of her chance to release a turtle so that I could do it for a third time. However, odds are that rather than handing over a memorable experience of releasing an adorable little creature back into the wild, I probably instigated an awkward talk from her father about what dying is.
Over the three days that we were there for the releasing of baby turtles en masse, we saw a little over 1000 released. Of those, the Bali Sea Turtle Society would only expect a single turtle to make it to maturity. Nature is a cruel mistress.
We spent the rest of the evening drowning our sorrows in a local rooftop bar. I guess 2/3 successful turtle releases isn’t bad.