19 – 26 November 2009
After zooming around the many islands in Wakatobi, it was a relief to finally stay put in one community and concentrate in one thing and one thing only – leatherback marine turtles. Kei is the only location in Indonesia we can hope to photograph leatherbacks underwater. It is also the home to traditional turtle hunters. I wrote a daily journal of our experience and since here was the most emotional we’ve ever been, I thought to share the long entries. But I have to issue a warning for the coming Kei Island series – There will be blood.
19 November 2009
S5 39.167 E132 44.438 – Tual
Kei Kecil Barat – Kabupaten Maluku Tenggara, Provinsi Maluku
Eki – local NGO Siran joint partner with WWF monitoring turtles
Pak Jan – local boat skipper
Dadi – Siran joint partner with WWF
We started our morning late at 10am after fixing all underwater and snorkelling equipment. The place so reminded us of whale shark watching in Donsol. Saw some fishermen out at sea standing on their canoes and thought they were hunters – Yogi asks “What artisanal fisherman catches fish standing up? They’re turtle hunters!” But they were indeed just fishing.
Eki shouted a call “Ubo ito bam datoo!” After an hour out at sea, at 11:00 am, we saw our first leatherback. Tabob it is called in the local dialect and Penyu Balimbing in Bahasa Indonesia, we saw our second one half an hour later. Yogi was the only one in the water. The old turtle was huge but not close enough for Yogi to photograph. He had 3 failed interactions before we headed back to home base. Pak Jan kept saying pagi-pagi. Early morning tujuh keluar – 7am onwards banyak, lots of Penyu Belimbing! Well this was our first day and first try, and I thought it was not bad at all, an hour into the trip and 3 sightings! Tomorrow we go much earlier.
The leatherback turtle is called Ubo in this village. In the past, the tradition was when the family had absolutely no food in the house to feed anyone, a shout to the Ubo will be heard by the turtles. The leatherback was known to offer her body to feed the family. That’s why the people here do not believe the leatherback is close to extinction. They believe it will never disappear.
Went back home and had lunch at 1:30pm. Rested, worked on pictures and went out to the beach by 5:30pm. There was a man slaughtering a green turtle on the beach. The carapace was upside down, the belly opened and turtle’s limbs cut off. The remaining stump was still struggling and moving in pain. It was horrible! But we photographed. These people are traditional hunters and the man said the turtle was for his family and not for selling. It would be their meal for 3 days.
I can’t get the struggling limbs off my eyes. Yogi already said, “You’re not going to like this,” but I saw it already before his warning. The poor beautiful turtle. It was not so big and she had very very small eggs, so we’re assuming she’s still not sexually mature. Eki measured her and the man cut her into pieces until all of her innards were gone. The end was when he cut off the layer of skin sticking to the carapace. When he rolled the skin down, it revealed a layer of fat that was green. A direct result of the green turtle being a seagrass eating vegetarian? Is this why they are called green turtles?