Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Wouldn’t it be awesome to be on the East Australian Current or EAC with a bunch of wise-looking turtles? First time I saw Disney’s ‘Finding Nemo’, this segment easily became my favorite part. I believed turtles to be wise and awesome surf dudes! Ever since, I’ve secretly prayed that all turtles were like Crush and his offspring, Squirt. On another note, I’d love to be on that EAC to just see so many turtles in one go. They’re so rare, as I’ve been taught. However, it’s possible to see a gang of them in Indonesia, at a spot called Turtle Traffic, as I’ve been told by all-star Indonesian divers: Cahyo Alkantana and Riyanni Djangkaru. I was like, ‘Whoa! I need to see this!’
Turtle Traffic is one of the many dive spots at Derawan Islands, located on the coast of East Kalimantan. It has always been known as the turtle-friendly destination. Derawan, the main and gateway island, is the main spot to see turtles even if you don’t dive. The most common species found here is the Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) and Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). They’re regular visitors of the Derawan lodges and occasionally surface for air. So, it is most certain to see them especially in the morning and afternoon at any chosen pier. Remember this picture?
From the island of Derawan, the Turtle Traffic point is another 1.5-hour speedboat ride away. This dive spot is located on the coast of ‘Payung-payung’ Village on Maratua Island, another main island of Derawan Islands aside to Sangalaki and Kakaban.
Once jumping in for a swim, I was excited to see my first turtle. It was a small green turtle, swimming around gently as if it was flying. I couldn’t wait to go diving. True enough, once diving, turtles were everywhere. Let’s say it again with a bit of drama, EVERYWHERE! You might not see 20 in one sitting, but your eyes will never cease to capture their presence. Near and far, swimming or just chillin’, above and below, Turtle Traffic truly is their hood. I even saw one sleeping. SLEEPING!!! They sleep underwater. Priceless! The size of their carapaces can range from half a meter to a little more than a meter. The highlight of my dive was when I came face to face with a green turtle within half a meter and exchanged stares for about 5 minutes. They aren’t necessarily afraid of humans, just approach them carefully without touching them. It was such a surreal feeling to be able to just stare in the eyes of a creature that has seen more of the ocean longer than I have lived. There are so many questions that I’d like to ask it, like ‘How deep is the sea?’, ‘Have you ever met your children?’, ‘Is the East Australian Current a lot of fun?’, and ‘Have you seen Finding Nemo?’. If only.
But you’ve heard about their vicious survival cycle, haven’t you? Out of the hundreds of eggs in one nest, there are only a few that actually make it to adulthood. It is said that only 1 percent of them reach the sexual age. But once survived, one can live up to 80 years in the wild and probably up to hundreds of years as you’ve heard from Crush (again, from Finding Nemo). They also roam the vast ocean, so what are the odds of meeting them? But diving or not, you will see turtles and turtles and turtles at this point. No myth, it is indeed a fact. I’ve also heard that you can see so many of them in Sipadan Island, Malaysia, but then again Derawan Islands has so many more things to offer (we’ll get to that soon).
With abundant individuals swimming around, it’s hard to believe that they are an endangered species as stated by the IUCN and CITES. My gut is telling me that it’s actually quite dangerous to post this information to the world. With the ongoing threat these turtles are facing, such as poachers that catch and collect their eggs collecting, and the struggle of its conservation, it might be better that people shouldn’t know of such turtle paradise. But there’s an Indonesian saying ‘Tak kenal, maka tak sayang’ translated to: If you don’t know about it, how could you love it. It’s also important for people to see and get to know more about these kind beings to then love them. As snobbish as it sounds, after an hour I came to a point where turtles were as rice to my Indonesian tongue. They became the norm. I was ready to ascend and leave these creatures to their peaceful life. Goodbye, turtles. I’m sure I’ll come back to see you still in your lifetime.
Note: PLEASE DON’T TOUCH THE TURTLES! Although most of us want to touch such long-living gentle creatures, we shouldn’t. There has been debate on whether human touch can expose their carapaces and cause it to catch diseases. I’ve been taught this is definite on baby and juvenile turtles as their shells are still very vulnerable, but not sure of adult. However, it’s still an uncertainty that we must avoid. Another opinion is that some turtles avoid humans as a result of past harassment. Some turtles have no problem with human encounter, but some just choose to run. They can easily out-swim humans, which could mean that if they don’t then they’re OK with our presences. However, if they do, it might be a result of human harassment in its past. No humans should touch them because we just don’t know where that line of harassment is. Also, you wouldn’t want to be that diver abandoned by turtles because the divers before you had been harassing them, now would you? Let’s be nice to future divers. We shouldn’t start a behavior change and make them avoid humans. Don’t you think so?
This post was a rewrite of my older post here.