At the end of our volunteer experience at the turtle conservation center on Nusa Penida, we were given the opportunity to accompany the staff at the center for a turtle release. We got into the bed of a pickup truck, holding an adult sea turtle wrapped in wet towels, and set off for a secluded beach. When we arrived, we had to make a pilgrimage down the side of a cliff to reach the water. Finally, we set the turtle down on the beach near a flower offering and waited for it to crawl into the ocean. It was an extremely emotional experience.
Conflict exists in the scientific community as to whether “head start” programs like the one in Nusa Penida actually work. Opponents say that the turtles are not fit to survive.
According to them, more work should be done to help the turtles in the wild currently, rather than to supplement their population. However, there is substantial evidence that says these programs work and, if nothing else, raise awareness for the plight of sea turtles. Additionally, the Green Lion turtle conservation program feeds sea turtles a mix of food that includes live crabs, and the sea turtles are very adept at catching these crabs. The sea turtles are only released when the staff at the conservation center observe them and think they will be able to survive in the wild. Also, a lot of our work at the sea turtle conservation center revolved around beach cleanups, with the ultimate goal of making the beach more attractive for turtles to lay eggs. For these reasons, I believe that the hawksbill turtle that we released is currently swimming happily somewhere in the Indian Ocean, catching crabs and jellyfish, waiting to return to Nusa Penida to lay eggs of her own.