If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, it’s help release baby turtles into the sea. Thanks to a tip from a family we met in Ubud in Bali a couple of weeks ago, I was able to tick it off my bucket list.
The location: Kuta Beach (yes that’s right!)
I first went to Kuta 18 years ago. As soon as I arrived at Denpasar Airport, I headed straight there. After being sucked into the backpacker party scene, I stayed for three weeks. I think Seminyak was still a sleepy fishing village. Despite my best laid plans, I didn’t quite make it out to explore the rest of the island. Up until this August, I hadn’t been back to Kuta. Every time I’ve been to Bali since living in Singapore, I’ve given the place a wide berth, preferring to head to Seminyak, its somewhat classier neighbouring town and a popular spot with Singapore expat families.
In my mind I imagined releasing turtles on Turtle Island in Borneo, or some other quiet and remote location. I never thought for a minute I’d release them on Kuta Beach.
There’s actually a turtle sanctuary right on the beach, it’s called the Bali Sea Turtle Society and is near the entrance closest to the Hard Rock Cafe. There’s an enormous turtle right outside it, which is used as a hatchery. You can’t miss it.
Every night between April and October, female sea turtles come up to lay eggs on the beach. The staff pick up the eggs and take them to a protected hatchery, to avoid dangers such as high tides, oblivious (or ignorant tourists) and feral dogs, so they have an increased chance of survival. Every evening they release the sea turtles into the ocean. The day we were there, 200 Olive Ridley turtles were being released, but numbers have been known to climb up to 800.
The release was led by Mal Harris aka Wayan Mal (who comes over from Australia for three months every year to help with the release programme) and the Head of Kuta Beach Security, known as Mr Turtle for his dedication to protecting the sea turtles. Both were clearly passionate about the cause. The release certainly drew a large crowd, mostly backpackers and families. They got the kids involved and the crowd excited. Miss C helped set up the flags on the beach from where the turtles would begin their race for freedom and Baby C was asked up on the make shift stage for a chat.
There were big red buckets filled with water and with the tiny black critters, no bigger than my palm, ready to make their escape for freedom. Newly hatched turtles lay in sand buckets, exhausted and barely able to lift a flipper. We even got to watch Mr Turtle helping some turtles out of their eggs that were in the hatchery. Wayan Mal told me rats had got into the building that night before and as they have a penchant for baby turtles, a few of them were on their way to turtle heaven. He said hadn’t been able to eat all day because of it.
We all took a container filled with water and a turtle and headed to the beach, trying to contain the flapping turtles. My kids decided their turtles should have names – Tommy and a very original Turtle! After lining up between the flags, while Wayan Mal and Mr Turtle whipped everyone up into a storm of excitement and the race to freedom was on. After a countdown, each person tipped their turtle gently onto the sand and they were off! Cheered on by the crowd, they set off on their slow, laborious journey down to the sea, flapping their flippers in a frenzy as they dragged themselves through the sand. Eventually they reached the water and were soon lost in the pounding surf.
Once released, they are by no means are they out of the water (so to speak). They still face danger after danger from sharks to man-made pollution such as plastic bags and also from illegal poaching of sea turtles. We saw a few stupid body boarders come into shore right in the zone where the release was taking place. They didn’t bother to look where they were treading.
Sea turtles are an endangered species and Wayan Mal told me out of every 1,000 turtles released into the sea, only one survives. The ones that that survive come back to the same beach they hatched out on to lay their eggs after 25 years. In 2013, more than 28,000 eggs were rescued.
Despite the crowds, it was a magical experience and I’m glad my kids and I were part of it. It’s a great thing to do with kids if you’re anywhere near Kuta.
Where: Kuta Beach – a two-minute walk south from the gates to the beach nearest Hard Rock Cafe. Kuta is a 20-minute taxi ride from Seminyak.
When: Between April and October. Get there at 4.30pm. Turtles are released around 5-5.30pm. You just need to turn up. IT’S FREE!
This is an experience not to be missed for families. They prioritise the kids.
For more information:
p.s. After the release, grab a drink from one of the guys selling beers, sit down on the beach and watch the sunset.