Big Conservation Impact From a Small Island

In a symbolic ceremony to express their new commitment to sea turtle conservation, the Ayau turtle hunters burned a net used to capture the turtles. © Conservation International-Indonesia

In a symbolic ceremony to express their new commitment to sea turtle conservation, the Ayau turtle hunters burned a net used to capture the turtles. © Conservation International-Indonesia

By Nicolas J. Pilcher, Chan Eng Heng and Romeo Trono

On a remote island in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, the Ayau people have pledged to forgo the main dish of their typical Christmas feast this year and every year: green turtle.

The Ayau community of 2,000, on an outlying island northwest of Papua, Indonesia, is a major consumer of turtle eggs and meat in Raja Ampat, especially during religious and adat (traditional) events. Traveling to nesting sites at Sayang and Piai Islands, also in Raja Ampat, for many years they poached 100 or more turtles and the eggs they carried for a single religious event each year. In the photo shown, in a symbolic ceremony to express their new commitment to sea turtle conservation, the Ayau turtle hunters burned a net used to capture the turtles.

The local Raja Ampat government and Indonesia’s national government have declared Sayang and Piai Islands as one of seven marine protected areas within the archipelago. These commitments by the governments and the Ayau community are positive steps toward protecting one of Indonesia’s remaining sea turtle rookeries. In 2007, approximately 1,000 nests laid on Sayang and Piai Islands were protected from poachers.

The Ayau community, with the help of Papua Sea Turtle Foundation, Conservation International, and private donors, is now seeking a protein alternative for the previously relished turtle meat, such as establishing a small pig farm on the island. Taking their commitment one step further, the Ayau have begun reaching out to other island communities about also ceasing their turtle consumption.