A Week Volunteering at a Turtle Conservation
At the end of my work term in Bali, Indonesia, I found myself with an extra week during which the schools were closed for a national holiday.
Since I couldn’t teach for my last week, I took a look at the other volunteer projects around me in Bali and decided, what a wonderful 22nd birthday present to myself, to spend a week volunteering at the turtle conservation! Sea turtles have long since been my favourite animal, and I thought it would be a perfect way to wrap up my trip–by getting to see these wonderful creatures, and play a little part in helping the environment.
I said a rather heartbreaking goodbye to my four best friends in Bali, and my local village, Penestenan, and hopped on a small ferry. Along with twelve other volunteers, I was headed to Nusa Penida, a stunningly beautiful Balinese island with minimal tourist traffic.
Immediately, life on Nusa Penida was different. The accommodation in Ubud had been basic, but this was basic. My new roommate could not physically fit her suitcase in our room, the room was so small. There was no hot water, and the setup of the ‘compound’ was such that I knew I would not feel clean (read: not sandy) the whole time.
The food was also limited in selection, so there were several meals where I ate just plain rice. After tough goodbyes earlier that morning, I was feeling emotionally raw and questioning my decision to come. All that changed when I saw the turtles.
The turtle conservation was just across the street from our house, a little oasis amongst palm trees and brown cows, about ten steps from the beach. In it, there housed over 300 magical little hawksbill turtles. The turtles come from all over the island, where they are either rescued by fisherman, or brought in by locals.
The conservation also brings in turtle eggs to the hatchery to ensure the turtles survive. After 9 months (or for the sick ones who get brought in, however much time they need to heal), the turtles are released back into the ocean.
Each day, we had two volunteer sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. One of those sessions was spent on the beach, picking up garbage. For me, this was especially eye opening. Although our group cleaned the beach twice a day, every day, there were always massive amounts of new garbage getting washed up on the beach every day from the mainland.
Picking up the garbage for several hours a day felt like a tangible, satisfying thing to do to help the environment, but it was alarming to see how much there was. Environmental education is quite lacking in Indonesia, and many people view the ocean as a giant trash bag. The conservation puts a lot of effort in to trying to change this.
The other part of the day was spent with the turtles, washing tanks, cutting fish, feeding the turtles, giving them medicine, or working in the sick bay. I spent several days washing tanks, which involved some serious dirty work–wading waist deep in turtle ‘matter,’ scrubbing the edges of the tank and coral toys with a toothbrush.
However, it was all worth it when it got to the end, when I got to wash the turtles, picking them up and scrubbing their scales. Soooo cool!! Another day I spent working the sick bay, giving medicine to turtles who had lost their eyes or a fin. It was really hard to see them like this, but I was glad to be there, trying to help.
The highlight of my trip was on the very last day, for the turtle release. This week two of the turtles were getting released: Marge, and a sad one without a name (haha). Wrapped in wet towels, we took them to a beach about half an hour’s drive away, where our leaders carried them down the steep hike to a hidden cove.
After blessing the turtles in the traditional Balinese way, we watched them crawl back to their true home. Although I had only been there for a week, it was an incredibly moving moment, and left me without words.
My time on Nusa Penida was not glamorous or easy, but like the rest of my journey, it was powerful and gave me things to reflect upon. For anyone who has a similar opportunity to volunteer at an animal conservation, or help with environmental efforts, I strongly encourage it. What beautiful creatures and places we have in this world to protect.