Indonesia tsunami: volunteers rescue dozens of stranded turtles

After a harrowing week of human tragedy, rescuers find a moment of hope as they return more than 30 turtles to the sea

For the officials and volunteers aiding rescue efforts after the tsunami that killed at least 430 people in Indonesia, it has been a grim week.

After deadly waves hit the coasts of Java and Sumatra in the Sunda Strait, they know they are more likely to find bodies than survivors. Amidst the horror, volunteers are clinging to any victories, however small, to keep them going.

One bright moment in an otherwise horrific week has been the rescue of more than 30 turtles that the tsunami washed up on the west coast of Banten.

The majority were at Tanjung Lesung resort, where more than 106 people died. As volunteers were attending to the bodies they noticed the turtles, some weighing almost 200kg, stranded around the resort. After the human casualties had been attended to, volunteer Eko Sulistio, 45, organised a seven-person turtle rescue group.

Since then more than 20 turtles have been carried to the ocean and released by the team. They included loggerhead sea turtles plus rare hawksbill and green sea turtles, according to volunteers and experts. Another 13 turtles were rescued by a second team from the locally based Serang Nature Conservation Agency.

Sulistio, a paintball centre owner, told the Guardian that some turtles had been found almost one kilometre from the shore. With green sea turtles weighing up to 180kg, moving them was difficult. “They were heavy – four of us were needed to carry one turtle,” he said. “Some were flipped over or under rubble. We made a stretcher with tarpaulin, rice sacks and sticks.”

There were further obstacles to saving the animals, many of which were threatened or endangered species.

“Some fishermen tried to get the turtles, maybe to eat them, but I told them not to,” said Sulistio. “They loaded them on a motorbike but I stopped them and warned them that the turtles were protected by law.”

Memen Suparman, a manager at the conservation agency, said that although green sea turtles were considered rare globally, they were seen off the Banten coast fairly regularly.

Silusto said that releasing the turtles into the ocean had been a moment of hope after witnessing such tragedy. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to see them returned to the ocean, their flippers touching the water. It’s the most beautiful scene.”

Additional reporting: Dessi Ariyanti


Jamie Fullerton in Banten province, Indonesia

The GuardianTramp

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