TURTLE CONSERVATION ON THE GILI ISLANDS

Turtles are great, you will struggle to find anyone who disagrees. They are a major focus for wildlife conservation globally and a large part of our marine conservation project. We here in the Gili Islands are amazingly lucky to be in one of the few, if not the only place on earth where seeing a turtle in the wild is all but guaranteed. This is great as Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are classed as critically endangered on a global scale and Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) are endangered, yet they both thrive around the Gili Islands in Indonesia. 

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GILI ISLANDS – THE TURTLE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

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. The Gili Islands are marked as an important area for marine turtle conservation. If we can ensure that the turtles can nest and hatch safely here we can provide the best start for the turtles in a similar way that we do for the white tip reef sharks.

HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE TURTLES?

When we study the turtles around the Gili Islands for our Turtle Identification Program it’s important to know if they are male or female. But how do you see the difference?  Unlike many mammals, turtles have no external genitalia. This makes determining their sex much more difficult, but it’s not impossible. It all comes down to the tail. A male has a large and thick tail which it uses to secure himself onto the female during mating. Another way to determine the difference between male and female turtles is by looking at their claws. Male turtles use their claws during mating rituals with female turtles. They also use their claws to fight and to claim and defend their territory. Therefore, the claws on the males’ front legs tend to be longer than the claws of female turtles.

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HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GREEN TURTLE AND A HAWKSBILL TURTLE? 

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GREEN TURTLES 

The most common turtle around the Gili Islands is the Green Turtle. On some days we’re even so lucky that we see more than 20 Green Turtles on one dive.  The diet of green turtles consists mainly sea grass, so much so that green turtles derive their name from the colour of their 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.

How can you recognize a Green turtle? They tend to be larger than the Hawksbill turtles, having a maximum recorded size of 1.5m long and they have 1 claw per flipper. Furthermore they have full cheeks of scales which we use to identify them to the individual level and a ‘blunt’ mouth designed for eating sea grass. No one knows for sure how old Green turtles get but some Hawaiian Green turtles have been documented nesting for more than 30 years, so that means they are at least 60-70 years old

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HAWKSBILL TURTLE

While still common around the Gilis we don’t see as many Hawksbill Turtles as we do the Green Turtles.
Named after the shape of their mouths the Hawksbills have more of a beak than their green counterpart. This is perfect to reach the algae it eats. 

Hawksbill Turtles grown to around 1 meter in length and its estimated that their lifespan is between rage between 30- and 50 years. Their shells tend to be darker than the Green Turtles and can often have barnacles/algae on. The segments of the shell don’t fit together perfectly causing an uneven surface and the back of the shell forms a serrated edge. Hawksbill Turtles have 2 claws per flipper which they use to hold on to reef or rocks while searching for food. 

We normally see Hawksbill Turtles near reefs rich in the sponges as they like to feed on them. Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat fish, marine algae, sea urchins, crustaceans, and jellyfish. Their hard shells protect them from many predators, but they still fall prey to large fish like sharks and humans.

 

Did you know…

that naturally only 1 turtle hatching out of 1000 makes it to adulthood and reproduces? While this may seem very small, this has worked for millions of years and turtles had healthy populations throughout this time. It is humans building in nesting areas, hunting them for their meat, hitting them with boats and filling the oceans with plastic which drastically reduces their numbers. So join us and help to protect the turtles while they are at their most vulnerable.

What can you do to help?

Make a difference by just following these 3 simple guidelines:

Don’t touch
Touching turtles or trying to feed them is a definite no-no. 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. By touching a turtle you transmit the bacteria of your hand onto their shell/skin which can make them very sick.

Keep a 2 meter distance
Did you know that turtles, just like you, need air to breath? Every now and then they will swim up to the surface to catch a breath. Please keep your distance. If there are too many snorkelers around, the turtle can become distressed and go into panic causing it to drown. Please give the turtles space to breath.

#Take3FortheSea
We believe lots of small individual actions can have a big impact on the planet. Every time when you leave the beach just simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with you and you’ve already made a difference. 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.

Curious what we do to help and protect the turtles around the Gili Islands? Read more about our Turtle Identification Program. 

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