Venu Island, home of the “Ambassador” of Kaimana’s Seas

Seekor induk Penyu Lekang menutup sarang setelah mengeluarkan hampir130 butir telur di Pulau Venu copy

Seekor induk Penyu Lekang menutup sarang setelah mengeluarkan hampir130 butir telur di Pulau Venu

Nesting beach protection

The waves hit the shore, accompanied by strong winds sweeping the small white sand island, only about ​​three football fields in size, southwest of Kaimana, Triton Bay’s gateway city. The village community has named this place Venu Island. Venu means “eggs” in the local Koiway language, and the name represents the eggs laid by hundreds of turtles that nest along the island’s sandy beach. To reach Venu from Kaimana requires a two to three hour journey in a speedboat. Shaped like a bracelet, with a saltwater pool in the middle, Venu is home to many exotic bird species, but the main attraction for conservationists and tourists is turtles.

Venu Island is relatively flat, only about 7 meters above sea level at its highest point, so its entire perimeter and even the inner island are ideal locations for turtles to nest and lay eggs. Three main species of sea turtles nest on Venu: green turtles (Chelonia mydas), hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricate) and olive or pacific ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea).

Conservation International (CI) in collaboration with the Center KSDA West Papua, through the Region IV Section KSDA Kaimana, and local indigenous communities conduct monitoring activities on Venu Island. CI initiated the formation of patrol teams to protect against threats, both natural (abrasion, predators) and non-natural (human). Patrol teams will take action against the violators who perform acts that threaten the survival of sea turtles. Data collection activities, team building supervision along with turtle nesting area patrols began in February 2011.

Monitoring and documentation includes determination of which species are nesting, the time (date and hour) of nest building, the predominant location of nests, the size of the nesting turtles, and frequency and the number of eggs produced. Monitoring is preformed every evening at 19.00 and lasts until 23.00.


Tete Irisa, Keeping Turtles from Extinction

As usual, every night Irisa Sawoka (60 years old) patrols the island to detect traces of turtles that have climbed to the beach to lay their eggs. Assisted by Yohan (40 years old), CI’s staff monitors the beaches trying to use as little artificial light as possible in order not to disturb the nesting turtles. Tete Irisa pioneered nest protection on Venu Island. Despite the fact that he had experience with protecting turtles, his enthusiasm for the project was not dampened. “Eran Jelepi (green turtles) come up most frequently and lay eggs in any season,” he said while digging a hole to move the turtle eggs to a secure location in front of the checkpoint. Other species are seen in October, a prime nest-building month.

At night, after the turtles are identified, the nests are numbered. The goal is to determine the number of turtles that nest and lay eggs on Venu’s beaches. In the morning, the men, armed with a large bucket, transfer eggs from the nests to a protected area. According to Tete Irisa, removing the eggs prevents predators from opening the nests and increases the likelihood of the hatchlings’ survival. Care is taken to move the eggs swiftly in order not to harm the embryos.

Turtle eggs will hatch and the baby turtles will return to the sea in about 30 to 40 days. “Watching the eggs hatch is a unique experience,” said the Kaimana native. Hatchlings know instinctively not to go down to the beach when it is still light. They often peek from the nest but wait for nightfall to scamper to the ocean. We release our hatchlings around 19:00 to avoid the brunt of predators on land and in the ocean. Just imagine, an average nest produces 180 to 200 eggs, but perhaps only two survive to return to Venu and lay their own eggs! Another good reason for protecting this island and the turtles that come here.”


Tukik memulai pengembaraannya di lautan

Tukik, memulai pengembaraannya di lautan


Turtles, Their history and Future

Because of the lack of protected turtle nesting beaches, many nesting areas in Indonesia have been exploited to the point where no turtles return to lay eggs. Looting eggs from nests and hunting turtles for their meat has decimated both Indonesia’s and the world’s sea turtle population. According Tete Irisa, the main looters around Venu did not come from Kaimana or its surroundings, but arrived from distant islands where the turtles already had been wiped out.

Around Kaimana, the numbers of turtles nesting on Venu and other islands nearby begin to shrink. Protection has not been easy. Limited means and knowledge about conservation methods are major obstacles. Initiatives between CI and BKSDA to protect turtle nesting beaches now have the support of the local communities and landowners. Based on CI’s data from 2011 through 2013, turtle nestings have increased to about 2,477 individuals. This positive result is due to the cooperation between all stakeholders who are striving to save Kaimana’s ambassador of the seas.

Newly Discovered Whale Shark Population Brings Tourism Potential to Indonesian Communities

Author : Nita Yohana, Published :

whale shark under fishing platform, Indonesia

Whale shark under bagan (fishing platform) in Indonesia. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)

In late 2011, CI’s Mark Erdmann blogged about an exciting expedition tagging whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay off the northern coast of West Papua, Indonesia. The trip was conducted in collaboration with WWF-Indonesia, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the Cenderawasih National Park Authority. Data received from the tags exposed the migratory behavior of these mysterious creatures along Indonesia’s coasts.

In Kaimana, on West Papua’s southern coast, the recent discovery of another whale shark population has triggered similar research, providing us with vital information backing the development of critical regulations to protect these species and support a burgeoning whale shark tourism industry that is both sustainable and benefits local communities.

Gentle Giants

Whale sharks are the largest living fish species, growing up to 18 meters (60 feet) and weighing 20 tons, yet they are known for being among the most gentle of the shark species. With enormous mouths that can be up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide, these filter feeders’ diet predominantly consists of plankton and small fish like anchovies.

Fishermen on Papua’s coast have long been aware of the existence of these animals. In fact, the sharks frequently approach the bagan (fishing platforms) where the fishers pull up nets of baitfish, hanging around for an easy meal or sometimes sucking fish from holes in the nets

Many fishermen consider the sharks to be good luck. And with an influx of tourists pouring into communities to see the sharks’ feeding activity in person, protecting whale shark populations will be the smartest economic choice for these communities.

Whale shark tourism has been thriving in Cenderawasih Bay since 2010. Yet in Kaimana, the region’s tourism potential is only beginning to be realized.

Kaimana is located in West Papua’s Bird’s Head Seascape, recognized as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. Since 2011, domestic and foreign tourists in Kaimana have increased, yet the region still lacks infrastructure that could make it a more accessible and popular destination.

While encouraging tourism, it’s also critical to protect the whale sharks from negative impacts resulting from human interaction. The more we know about the behavior of whale sharks, the better we can help local communities value and protect them.

The Research

Up to this point, our understanding of the life cycle of whale sharks remains limited. We know that whale sharks are normally solitary and frequently spend a fair proportion of their time in depths below 100 meters (328 feet).

We also know that they are able to migrate great distances to take advantage of seasonally abundant food sources, around which they tend to briefly gather in large numbers to feed before dispersing again). Most of the sharks observed in these aggregations are young males in the 4-8 meter (13-26 foot) size range — but we don’t know much else. This is why we are conducting this research in Kaimana.

Since December 2013, CI has photo identified 11, satellite tagged four and genetically sampled six whale sharks in Kaimana. The satellite tags record depth, temperature, and light level data (used to estimate location) of the shark’s diving behavior over a certain period of time. The time frame of deployment of these tags varies; some have been programmed to pop off the shark after three months, while other stay on for six.

Every whale shark has a unique spotting pattern on the body, similar to a human’s fingerprint. By taking photo IDs of each individual (the left side of the animal between the gills and the dorsal fin), we hope to learn whether any of the sharks observed in Kaimana are the same ones seen in Cenderawasih Bay.

fisherman feeding whale shark, Indonesia

Fishermen feeding whale shark off of bagan fishing platform. (© Conservation International/photo by Nita Yohana)

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