Gili Islands – The Turtle Capital of the World

Gili Islands – The Turtle Capital of the World

The Gili Islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) is an international hotspot for both Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate). This is great as Hawksbill turtles are classed as critically endangered on a global scale and Green are endangered, yet they both thrive around the Gilis.
Turtles have been on this planet for over 150 million years and while they spend most of their time in the sea they also depend on the land, primarily beaches, for survival as well as they come on land to lay their eggs.

Did you know that only 1 out of 1000 turtle eggs make it to adulthood?

The diet of green turtles consists mainly sea grass, so much so that green turtles derive their name from the colour of there meat thanks to their diet. This is important both for the reef and the land, they cultivate the sea grass which acts as a nursery for many fish species but also provide coastal protection from storms and tsunamis. When they are cultivated properly by a stable turtle population then the system works.

However as with many species on earth the biggest threat to turtles is human beings. While it is no longer a major threat turtle soup was a sign of wealth in Europe, much like shark fin soup in east Asia. This was rampant through the 19th and 20th centuries. While this is no longer sought after they are caught in other fishing nets that may not be targeting them but catch them all the same. Getting caught in these nets usually leads to the turtle drowning.

This combined with habitat loss, oceans plastic debris which they confuse for food and the fact that as little as 1 in 1000 turtle eggs make it to adulthood makes the position of the turtle populations on earth very delicate.

What does the Gili Shark Conservation Project do to help the turtles?

We monitor the turtles we find here, using some free software anyone can keep track of animal populations around them if they have ‘fingerprint’ like patterns on their body, something that is unique to that individual, like a cheetahs spots or a turtles face. On our dives someone on the shark team always has a camera, usually a GoPro, and we take pictures of every turtle we see, note down its length, location and gender.

This, combined with the picture can give us an insight to the movement patterns of the turtles around our islands in order to better understand the way they use the area and hopefully increase the protection they receive in the surrounding areas.

We also promote Turtle safe snorkelling’ via educational materials freely available to snorkelers that want to see turtles. This is primarily done by 3 simple an easy rules.

How can you help?

1. Don’t Touch
While it may see hard the Turtles shell is the equivalent to its skin and like many marine creatures has a layer of mucus around it to protect it from harmful bacteria in the water. Any contact with the turtle breaks this barrier and not only lets this bacteria in, introduces human bacteria into its system which it may have no defence from. So please stay at least 2 metres away from turtles when you want to see them. This leads right into our next rule…

2. Keep your distance
Turtles are reptiles and as such need to breathe air to live. It is a common problem that in their eagerness to see the turtles up close people get in the way of turtles that are swimming to the surface to breathe. So please whenever you are in the water with these guys makes sure that there is space for them to reach the surface and take a big gulp of air.

3. #Take3ForTheSea
Every time you go out, be it to the beach or inland, pick up at least pieces of rubbish (trash). While this is good for a whole host of environmental and conservation reasons it is especially important when thinking about turtles. Along with seagrass many turtles eat jellyfish. What looks like jellyfish? Plastic bags. Turtles regularly die from eating plastic bags as they clog up their digestive system causing them to starve. So please pick up your rubbish and try to use less plastic in general.