Have you ever risk yourself to save another creature? Well, maybe I am exaggerating it but it feels like that when I try to free 2 turtles from captivity.
After fully recovered from Malaria [read: Life and Death Situation], I start to rearrange my research. It’s just 1 island left. But this is the most notorious island; it’s famous for its destructive fishing techniques.
In this particular island, doing illegal fishing is nothing special. It’s a sin island. Catching Groupers using potassium cyanide or doing blast fishing is just a matter of choice. Further, marine creatures that they catch are including the protected ones. For example: turtles.
A day before I left, me and my assistant student, Yuli, find out that the fisherman who live next to our homestay has caught 2 hawksbill turtles. As a person who once worked on turtle conservation issue, I feel so annoyed. I can’t let those turtles die from illegal cause. But what can I do? Of course I can buy them but then what? If I bought it and then release it in that island’s waters immediately, then it won’t make any difference. The fishermen will catch it again and sell it to others. If I release it on my way back to the mainland, the boatman will ask me thousand questions and probably buy the turtles because he considers my action is silly. Well, I don’t know.
Then I discuss it with Yuli. I told her that I have to buy those turtles and release them. But I have to have a good reason. Beside, I’ll be coming back to that island. If they know that I just buy turtles for releasing them; then they will catch more and try to sell them to me in higher price.
After discussing, we then come up with a scenario. I talk to our host that I am interested to buy the 2 turtles from his neighbor. Of course he asks my purpose in buying them. Upon this, I make up a story that I will send the turtles to Bali, to a turtle conservation place. The price for each turtle is Rp.27.500,- (about € 2) because their length are + 40 cm. Very cheap! Isn’t that crazy??!!!! I feel so furious. Those turtles need years and years to grow and they just sell it for that price???? If they sell it for half a million, then maybe I could understand it.
Since I brag about sending the turtles to Bali, the host even offers to send the turtles directly to Bali!!! Of course I object the idea. The host then asks me to contact my friend in Bali to make sure how the turtles can be accepted. At first, I thought my plan will not work. If he keeps insisting to send the turtles directly to Bali, I am doomed. Upon this, I pretend to call my friend in Bali. Luckily, my cellphone signal is weak within the homestay so I have to go to the pier to get signal. I take Yuli out with me to discuss further steps. We can’t stop now, operation turtle release has already started.
We tell our host that my friend in Bali can’t be contacted. We try to call him but no answer. So we decided to send him SMS about the turtles. And as we haven’t got any respond yet, so we just take the turtles with us to the mainland. We also mentioned that our friend is familiar with the situation, receiving turtles for conservational purposes, so he will know what to do.
In the next morning when we ready to go, our host tells us that the 2 turtles aren’t just hawksbills. He changes the 2 hawksbills; so we’ll get 1 hawksbill and 1 green turtle. Oh My God, so how many turtles are there? But I didn’t argue at all. Buying too many turtles will create another suspicion; especially with their interrogative questions to me. Beside, we still unsure that the plan can go smoothly. To be honest, me and Yuli can’t sleep well because we’re so nervous with the plan. What if the plan doesn’t work? What if the turtles are placed far from us on the boat? What if the boatman decides to buy the turtles when he sees us releasing them? What if the host knows that we lied? And thousands of ‘what if’s…
Before we depart, our host put the 2 turtles in 1 sack then tied the sack opening with plastic rope. Our first concern: where the turtles will be placed? If we want to free them, they have to be near us. I can’t imagine if the turtles are among pile of bags and we have to dig in and carry them outside. But our worries are gone when the host places the sack near our seat.
So far, everything works as planned. So we continue. The boat trip will take around 1 hour; after 30 minutes ride we perform our scenario. I pretend that I got SMS from my friend in Bali, saying that he can’t accept turtles anymore. Then I pretend to discuss with Yuli about it. For information, we sit in front of the boatman; so he can see everything that we do. We do this because we know that the boatman will tell the host about everything. (Telling everything to fellow islanders is just part of their custom).
After we think we have played good enough, Yuli then come to the boatman and ask him to slow down the boat because we want to release the turtles. She also tells him the reason; that our friend can’t accept it and we don’t know what to do. For sure keeping sea turtles in a backyard is not an option. So it’s better to release them.
To our surprise, the boatman even helps in cutting the sack, carrying out the turtles, and releasing them into the sea. I guess the universe helps our good intention. I pray to God when the turtles are released; hopefully they won’t get caught anymore for the rest of their lives.
The real operation only takes less than 10 minutes, but the preparation is pretty stressful. But in the end, we’re so glad that we do this operation. Saving turtles live for another moment.
[For video, check out: Operation Turtle Release]