04/17/2015, Venu Island
We have seen a lot of aquatic extermination across the Pacific; reefs that should be teeming with edible fish, turtles, lobsters, but are just blank watery spaces between coral formations. Many of the conservation laws enacted by island nations are in place to appease donor nations. There is no enforcement or ecological education of the citizens living on these over populated islands.
But sailing, west from Tual, Indonesia, we came across a remote island named 'Venu' but known in tourist brochures as "Turtle Island". In the local language 'venu' means eggs.
Turtle Island, is a speck of an island, not more than 20 feet high at its peak, less than 3 football fields in size, and is ringed with a white sand beach. It is 40 miles west of Triton Bay, off the west coast of Papua, and about the same distance south west of the small city of Kaimana. Although we anchored in the lee, there is no protected anchorage so the weather must be calm.
Conservation International supports a group of care takers to live on the island and protect the nesting turtles. Although green turtles crawl ashore to nest all year, other species, like hawksbill and ridley, arrive more frequently during the October nesting season.
At dusk, we motored our dinghy to the lee side of the island and landed on the white beach. From 7PM till 11PM the care takers walk the beach looking for newly arrived tracks in the sand.
Soon after we landed on shore, we were taken to a turtle nestled up in some low lying tree branches. The 3 foot wide turtle was busy scooping out a sand pit. The whole process takes about an hour for digging a hole, dropping about 190 eggs and filling in the sand. As the large turtle finishes smoothing over the sand nest, the care takers will measure the turtle for size, add this nest to the total nest count, and mark the nest site with a stick so they will have an approximation of when to monitor the nest for hatching. As yet, they have no tags to attach to the large turtles, so they only have a written list of each turtle's measurements and nesting day.
If for some reason the large turtles choose not to come ashore, there is still the good chance of seeing hatchlings scrambling across the sand to the ocean. After 35 days of incubation, if they should hatch out of the sand during the day, the small turtles will wait huddled in a shaded area for the sun to disappear before making the wobbly 4 legged dash to the ocean. This is when the monitors get a count of how many babies make it to the ocean.
Only in the most remote islands of the northern Marshall Islands and a few isolated places in the Pacific have we seen unmolested turtle tracks coming out of the water and marking a trail up above the high tide line. It was a good find to see the conservation measures at the more accessible Vinue island.
One mid afternoon, Rebecca and I snorkeled on the reef to the north and to the east of venue and saw no less than a dozen different turtles feeding, resting or scurrying away from us. Maybe the idea of conservation will continue throughout Indonesia.