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Around the Island

Lene at Harod's restaurant

You could probably walk the outline of Derawan Island in 30-40 minutes or so. But still it was big enough for a small fishing village, a shipyard, a couple of kiosks, a primary school, a cemetery, a mosque, hens and ducks and quite a few tailless Japanese bobtail cats.

We had gotten wind of a villager who nursed green sea turtles on a government grant and wanted to pay him a visit. He collected newborn baby turtles on the beach, kept them in bowls and tubs and after a while released them into the vast blue sea.

The green turtle is the second largest of the marine turtle species outgrown only by the leatherback turtle. It can grow up to more than 1 meter in carapace size and weigh as much as 180 kg. Although it’s found in all tropical and sub-tropical oceans, Indonesia is one of only a few countries where sea turtles hatch all year round.

4-day old baby green turtle in Lene's hand

The survival rate of hatchlings is as low as 0.1% since an average of only 50% of all eggs hatch and then a large number of baby turtles are eaten by fish and other underwater predators. The number of eggs per clutch as laid by a female turtle in the still of the night averages slightly in excess of 100.

A survival rate of 0.1% means that none of these may survive at all – indeed, only one out of 1,000 baby turtles survive the first year. Is this enough to sustain the species? Some scientists believe that a minimum of 2.5 hatchlings per 1,000 is needed. It seems the green turtle needs all the help it can get.

When we called on this villager he had three large plastic bowls containing four, seven and 14 day-old baby turtles. They were irresistible, and we carefully held some of them in our hands – just for size – and were really amazed at how soft their tiny flippers were.

A batch of 14 day olds were about to be released during the next couple of days – after our leaving, of course – and the villager explained that this simple method resulted in significantly increased survival rates for Baby Green.

Anemone shrimp

One day we took a stroll with Eddi through the village. He pointed out the house of the local rich man – the only house with real tiles on the porch and a satellite dish twice the size of everybody else’s. The local football team was out practicing in the midday sun – all wearing Ronaldo t-shirts. The local alderman hung out with some other men, and it seemed quite clear that he was a man everybody wanted to be on good terms with.

I told Eddi I had read somewhere that the primary reason for personal injuries in Indonesia was coconuts falling from the top of the palm trees. Eddi laughed his head off and replied that this was certainly news to him. In that very instant a sizeable coconut whizzed right passed his head and thumbed to the ground. Eddi screamed like an old woman jumping as high as his tiny, skinny legs could lift him. Never say never…

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