Located at the southern tip of Sulabesi Island, the Fatkauyon Village is one of most isolated places in North Maluku. It takes more than two hours of challenging land trip to get to this village from Sanana City, the capital of Sula Islands District. Owing to its distance from urban centers, Fatkauyon’s surrounding waters has remained untouched and has become a true sanctuary for sea turtle populations.
Coral Triangle Center (CTC), as one of USAID SEA Project’s implementing partners, conducted a fish spawning aggregation and sea turtle nesting location survey in Fatkauyon in 2018 and 2019. Results from these studies found that sea turtle populations in the island are extremely abundant. On each dive, they would find on average 40 sea turtles for every underwater transect measuring 200 to 300-meter length. The sea turtle species in Fatkauyon are mostly greens turtle (Chelonia midas) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) species. During the surveys, our team also found serveral turtles laying their eggs along the coastline of Fatkauyon Village, illustrating the island’s role as a heaven for these charismatic marine animals.
Sea turtles have been living in Fatkauyon undisturbed for hundreds of years. However, in the last 20 years as the local village population grew, some villagers have started to disturb the sea turtle’s nesting grounds. According to Eddy Koroy, chair of the Fatkauyon’s Village Consultative Body (BPD), villagers were tempted to trade sea turtles and its eggs to earn money. 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 a quite attractive income for the community. An adult turtle can lay up to 100 eggs each time. Those soft shell eggs are usually buried in the coastal sand with nest hole depth between 25-50 cm.
“The hunt for sea turtles and their eggs resulted in declining number of those animals that land in 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 discussion with CTC team in March.
Optimizing the Role of POKMASWAS
Dealing with this challenge, the local government through the Marine and Fisheries Agency (DKP) of Sula Islands, took the lead to protect the sea turtles. One of DKP of Sula Islands staff, Samsul Sapsuha, said that the government addressed the issue by informing the villagers of existing regulations about sea turtle hunting and sea turtle eggs consumption. They highlighted the fact that consuming sea turtle eggs can cause health problems as these may contain harmful substances, such as mercury. The information drive was effective, and the government has seen a decline in the number of sea turtle egg hunters in the last five years.
To further protect the sea turtle population, the Village Government of Fatkauyon formed a community surveillance group (POKMASWAS) in collaboration with DKP of Sula Islands. To support this effort, CTC has facilitated the legalization of the POKMASWAS group at provincial level. This was done through the issuance of Head of DKP Maluku Province’s Decree No.523/389/DKP of 2019 regarding the establishment of community surveillance group of “Pasir Putih” at Fatkauyon Village in Sula Islands District.
Nowadays, the Pasir Putih POKMASWAS – with its 13 members, conducts sea and coastal patrol on regular basis to oversee fishing activities and monitor sea turtle nests. Any identified nests will be marked with fences and covered by used nets which will discourage other villagers to take the eggs and also deter 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 Tanjung Waka area. We then marked the nests with wooden fence and wrap them with used nets to avoid wild boar attack. We hope that the existence of POKMASWAS can contribute positively to the protection of sea turtle habitat in Sula Islands,” explained Amir Koroy as the secretary of POKMASWAS Pasir Putih.
As part of the USAID SEA Project implementation, CTC has committed to working with all related stakeholders and community members in Sula Islands to protect marine resources and support the marine protected area (MPA) establishment. In 2018, CTC successfully advocated the gazettement status of Sula Islands MPA with total area of 117,959.88 hectares at provincial level through the issuance of Governor’s Decree of North Maluku Province No. 360.
In addition, 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 to encourage behaviour change towards marine conservation. CTC also increased the capacity of related stakeholders in the district through training and workshop about basic marine conservation, zoning and MPA establishment, and scuba diving to support the sustainable marine tourism for the locals. (*)
Writer: Kasman and Yoga Putra (CTC)