06 Jul Inspiring Community Leaders to Protect Fatkauyon’s Sea Turtles
Located at the southern tip of Sulabesi Island, Fatkauyon Village is one of the most isolated places in North Maluku. It takes more than two hours of challenging overland travel to get to this village from Sanana City, the capital of Sula Islands District. Nevertheless, beyond all difficulties, Fatkauyon is a true sanctuary for sea turtle populations in surrounding waters.
Based on the fish spawning aggregation sites and turtle nesting location survey results in 2018 and 2019, the Coral Triangle Center (CTC), as one of the USAID SEA Project implementing partners, found that the sea turtle population in Sula is abundant. On average, in each dive session along an underwater transect of 200 to 300 meters, the CTC’s team managed to encounter more than 40 turtles, mostly green turtle (Chelonia midas) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) species. Moreover, three turtles were also found laying their eggs along the coastline of Fatkauyon Village during the survey.
The sea turtles used to live safely without any significant threats. However, in the last 20 years, there has been some activity by villagers which has disturbed these long-living reptiles. According to Eddy Koroy, the chair of the Fatkauyon’s Village Consultative Body (BPD), villagers were tempted to trade sea turtles and their eggs for financial gain. The price of sea turtle eggs can range between IDR 1,500-IDR 3,000 per piece (around USD 0.11-USD 0.21) which provides an attractive income for some people in the community. An adult turtle can lay up to 100 eggs each time. These soft-shelled eggs are usually buried in the coastal sand with nest hole depths between 25-50 cm.
“The hunt for sea turtles and their eggs resulted in a declining number of these animals that go to the beach for nesting. We used to find at least one turtle laying eggs around the beach every night during nesting season, but now they are hard to find,” said Eddy during a discussion with the CTC team in March.
In order to deal with this challenge, the local government through the Marine and Fisheries Agency (DKP) of Sula Islands refused to remain silent. One of the DKP Sula Islands staff, Samsul Sapsuha, said that the government continues to promote the existing regulations for sea turtle hunting and sea turtle egg consumption due to their harmful substances, such as mercury. In the last five years, the number of sea turtle hunters has diminished and these charismatic animals have reappeared on Fatkauyon beaches.
Optimizing the Role of POKMASWAS
In order to protect the sea turtle population and prevent illegal hunting and egg scavenging in the future, the Village Government of Fatkauyon took the initiative to form a community surveillance group (POKMASWAS) in collaboration with DKP Sula Islands. To support this effort, the CTC has facilitated the authorization of POKMASWAS at the provincial level through the issuance of the Head of DKP Maluku Province’s Decree No.523/389/DKP of 2019 regarding the establishment of community surveillance group “Pasir Putih” at Fatkauyon Village in Sula Islands District.
Now, Pasir Putih POKMASWAS, with its 13 members, conducts sea and coastal patrols on a regular basis to oversee fishing activities, as well as the existence of sea turtle nests. Any identified nests will be marked with fences and covered by used nets. Through these methods they will be saved from any illegal egg looting by local residents or other threats coming from predatory animals such as wild dogs, lizards and boars.
“Last June, our POKMASWAS group members found a number of sea turtle nests around the Tanjung Waka area. We then marked the nests with wooden fences and covered them with used nets to avoid wild boar attacks. We hope that the existence of POKMASWAS can contribute positively to the protection of sea turtle habitats in Sula Islands,” explained Amir Koroy, the secretary of POKMASWAS “Pasir Putih”.
As one of the USAID SEA Project implementing partners, the CTC has committed to working with all related stakeholders and community members in Sula Islands to protect marine resources and support Marine Protected Area (MPA) establishment. In 2018, the CTC successfully advocated the acquisition of gazettement status of Sula Islands MPA with a total area of 117,959.88 hectares at the provincial level through the issuance of the Governor’s Decree of North Maluku Province No. 360.
In addition, the CTC has also conducted a series of community outreach and public awareness activities about the importance of marine conservation and sustainable fisheries in Sula Islands for wider behavioural change in the future. The CTC also increased the capacity of related stakeholders in the district through training and workshops on basic marine conservation, zoning and MPA establishment, as well as scuba diving training to support the growth of a sustainable marine tourism industry for the local community.