Baby turtles run to the sea ... (Berawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Baby turtles run to the sea ... (Berawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Small turtle will become big

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

During the day, the turtles of Derawan Island come to swim under the pontoons. At night, they lay their eggs in the still warm sand.

A small peaceful village

In Derawan, a small island on the east coast of Borneo, Indonesia, life is simple and rustic, facing the sea.

The village, with its wooden houses on stilts, must count less than two thousand souls. One makes the turn of the island on foot without hurrying in less than one hour.

I spent ten peaceful days there...

The village on stilts in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
The village on stilts in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Beach in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Beach in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Turtle nursery

Derawan is the island of turtles! A small WWF center, located at the Danakan losmen, where I was staying, takes care of their conservation.

In Derawan, turtles come to swim under the pontoons. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
In Derawan, turtles come to swim under the pontoons. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

The WWF center in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009). In the evening, we see young people working for the center leave, with a long metal rod to search the sand and a flashlight.

Every night, they walk the beach to harvest turtle eggs.

When they find some, they put them back to hatch, under cover, in a small incubator installed near the Derawan Dive Resort.

A few weeks later, when the eggs hatch, they release the baby turtles at nightfall.

I was lucky enough to attend the event, along with Paul and Becky, my English friends, and Margot, another French girl who was staying with us at the Danakan losmen. One of the young guys from the WWF Center had given us an appointment, saying that they would release the little turtles at 9pm.

Once is not usual in Indonesia: for the release of turtles, time is time... And we arrived just in time on the beach to see the tiny creatures dashing fearlessly towards the waves.

Baby turtles are released after dark on Derawan Beach. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Baby turtles are released after dark on Derawan Beach. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Baby turtles run to the sea ... (Berawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).
Baby turtles run to the sea ... (Berawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

It's a moving spectacle to watch these dozens of baby turtles wander the waves in the dim light.

You have to turn off the lamps, limit the photos because of the flashes... It disturbs the little animals, which then start to climb on your bare feet, magnetized by the light. Above all, don't move, so as not to risk crushing them!

The immense, dark sea soon takes them. Barely 1% will survive. They have no shortage of predators. At this age, they are easy and fragile prey.

Small turtle will become big, as long as God gives it life ...

Derawan, the turtle island

In Derawan, evening and morning, when I take the fresh air on the terrace of my room on stilts, I hear the breath of the turtles which come to breathe on the surface.

Turtle in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009).

Every day, you can swim with them, observe them with just a mask and a snorkel. The turtles of Derawan are not very shy.

In Derawan, a banana leaf attracts turtles for sure ... (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)

It's true that we pamper them here.

At the Danakan losmen, as soon as new tourists move in, Harris, who runs the guesthouse with the nice lady who calls herself Mama Rina, hangs a banana leaf on the end of a string to attract the turtles.

Obviously, they love it, because it works every time! One or even two turtles soon approach and shamelessly graze on the leaf.

On the pontoon, the newcomers, young and old, are ecstatic.

After a few days, you get used to it. But if the astonishment dulls, the wonder remains.

Banana leaf attracts turtles for sure ... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, 2009)
Banana leaf attracts turtles for sure ... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, 2009)
Turtles in Derawan. (Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009.)
Yum, yum ... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, 2009)

I made some dives on the Derawan reef, very close to the pontoons.

Not very good view, "muck-dive" atmosphere (with lots of nudibranches and nice little creatures to flash). But, each time, there too, we are almost sure to meet one or several turtles... I will post a small underwater movie soon.

Threatened turtles

The abundance of turtles in Derawan almost makes you forget that they are endangered.

This is the second time that I witnessed, in Indonesia, initiatives to protect them (remember the turtle nursery of Pemuteran, Bali). Drops of water in the ocean, unfortunately...

Indonesian law prohibits the fishing of turtles, either for their meat or their shells. But illegal fishing continues. Moreover, in Derawan itself, there are stores and hawkers who offer various trinkets made of turtle shells.


I invite you to watch this short movie from WWF below. It reviews the threats to turtles in the Coral Triangle, which covers the seas of the Indo-Pacific zone dear to my heart.

Even if you don't understand English, the beautiful underwater pictures are enough. You will also be able to see the scene I described above, when the baby turtles rush to the sea... The initiatives carried out in the Berau region (the area where Derawan is located) are cited as an example.


Some links

→ Wikipedia: Sea Turtle (in French)

→ WWF: Endangered marine turtles (in French)

→ WWF: Protecting marine turtles in the Indo-Pacific (in English)

→ (in French)

→ (in French)

→ Blog of Marjolinj Christianen (in English) [Remember, she is the young Dutch girl I met in Derawan, who is studying seaweed and turtles for her PhD... We became "sisters in pain": a few days after me, she also got sting with a stingray stashed in the sand.]

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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  1. J’espère franchement que les bijoux sont en toc et non pas comme elles le prétendent en écailles de tortues ?….
    Lors de mon 1er séjour à Mayotte en 2005, j’avais assisté à l’éclosion des oeufs de tortues et les bébés se dirigeaient instinctivement vers la mer, moment magique ! Combien survivront aux oiseaux, aux prédateurs marins et aux humains, trop peu….
    Ma mère et des amis randonneurs ont sauvé in extremis une tortue venue pondre sur une plage déserte. Elle s’était coincée dans les racines d’un arbre, sa carapace était déformée, elle a regagné difficilement la mer après qu’ils l’aient dégagé…et ça pèse lourd une tortue verte adulte !
    J’ai revu les photos récemment et c’est très émouvant car sans leur passage sur cette plage elle serait morte après avoir donné la vie.
    Moi je me prépare pour mes 3 semaines aux Antilles, au moins une semaine à La Dominique pour y voir les hippocampes, antennaires et bulles sous marine échappées d’activités volcaniques sous marines.
    A Paris non plus il ne fait pas très beau aujourd’hui alors il fait se changer les idées.

  2. @LiseMet: Hum… je me demande toujours si c’était de la vraie écaille ou pas. Ça y ressemblait bien, en tout cas. Pour ma part, c’était la première fois que j’assistais à ce grand départ des bébés tortues pour le vaste océan. Très émouvant.
    Seahorses, antennas and bubbles from the depths? Very attractive program ... Happy holidays in Dominica!

  3. Ah les bungalows sur pilotis de Derawan !… J’ai aimé, mais il faut s’habituer au clapotis des vagues contre les pilotis. Par mer calme c’est un bonheur, par mer agitée c’est moins confortable…

    A l’heure de dîner j’ai vu les tortues également, et quelques raies. Pourtant, même si elles ont l’air d’être là spontanément je n’aime pas trop le côté “aquarium”. Sans savoir pourquoi véritablement ! C’est agréable et gracieux à admirer, mais je crois que je préfère en croiser spontanément sous l’eau, au hasard des explorations sous-marines.

    Mais Derawan vaut le détour, c’est certain. Surtout si on a besoin de décompresser beaucoup!
    🙄 🙄

  4. @A World Elsewhere: Moi aussi, je préfère quand elles paraissent spontanément, les tortues, sans qu’il soit besoin de les appâter avec des feuilles de bananiers. Mais ce qui est plaisant à Derawan, c’est qu’elles viennent très souvent à nager sous les pontons spontanément. Tôt le matin, quand tout est calme, on les entend même respirer… On est loin de tout, à Derawan. Vraiment idéal pour un vrai “break”.

  5. @ Marie-Julie: J’ai enfin trouvé la bidouille à faire dans le code pour insérer une petite image de façon automatique en fonction d’un tag donné. Je teste… Ravie que ça te plaise.

  6. Hello Corinne,

    I land on your blog and I devour your articles for a few hours! Thank you for sharing your words and your images, it feels good.

    J’ai aussi croisé ce genre d’initiatives pour les tortues sur Gili Meno près de Lombok. Des gouttes d’eau dans l’océan, comme tu dis, mais ça fait plaisir de voir que certains ont cette conscience, et que chaque jour, à leur échelle, ils participent à la sauvegarde des tortues de mer.

  7. @Marion: Bienvenue sur Petites Bulles d’Ailleurs, et je suis bien contente que tu t’y plaises!
    Je me souviens avoir rencontré beaucoup de tortues en plongée, voire simple snorkeling, aux îles Gili près de Lombok, il y a quelques d’années. Je suis persuadée que toutes ces modestes initiatives contribuent, au moins localement, au maintien de la population des tortues, ainsi qu’à la sensibilisation des gens du coin.