Photo: Flip Flop.

Turtle Beach Conservation Centre

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The highlight of a visit to Ujung Genteng for many travellers is the opportunity to visit the turtle conservation centre to see large green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) lay their eggs in the sand and witness baby hatchlings on their inaugural journey to the sea, and the best part is that you’ll be in the company of very few other humans.

About five kilometres north of Ujung Genteng village along the aptly named Turtle Beach, green sea turtles make the long journey from out in the deep blue sea all the way to this tiny section of sand as they have been doing for millennia to nest throughout the year, with the peak nesting season from July to August. This area is one of the world’s largest nesting grounds for green sea turtles, but other species including olive ridley, hawksbill, flatback, loggerhead and leatherback turtles occasionally make their way to the sand too.

By the bucket full. Photo taken in or around Turtle Beach Conservation Centre, Ujung Genteng, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

By the bucket full. Photo: Sally Arnold

One kilometre north of the sparse collection of surf camps and homestays at Turtle Beach, is the government run turtle conservation centre, Penangkaran Penyu Pangumbahan Ujung Genteng, where they make a concerted effort to protect these majestic endangered creatures from poachers, who prize the meat and eggs. The purpose of the conservation programme is to collect eggs which are laid nightly by the returning turtles, incubate them and then release the hatchlings so that the cycle continues. Visitors are able to see all of these conservation activities for a nominal fee.

Hatchlings are released nightly, usually as the sun sets and mother turtles turn up on a whim between the hours of 19:00 and 03:00. This schedule is highly dependent on nature, but a ranger mentioned they appear most evenings with up to 50 mother turtles on some nights. Around 17:30 rangers carry a bucket of young hatchlings to the shore and draw a line in the sand for tourists to remain behind. As cute as they are, it’s detrimental to the creatures to be handled by humans, so don’t touch!

Photoshoot. Photo taken in or around Turtle Beach Conservation Centre, Ujung Genteng, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Photoshoot. Photo: Sally Arnold

Once released the tiny waddlers instinctively flip and trip towards the sea, implanting on their brains a map of the beach to which they will return when they are old enough to breed. They are soon swept up by the ocean waves, most whose fates will be lost to predators or fishermen’s nets with only two percent reaching adulthood. After this you can wait at the centre for the mother turtles to arrive, but you must leave the beach. If you are staying nearby, give your phone number to the rangers who will happily send you a message when a turtle appears, alternately stock up on snacks and bring a light jacket and a raincoat, as it could be a long wait.

When a turtle is about to lay, you will be lead by the ranger to the nesting site. Don’t use a torch or camera flash, as flashing light disturbs the turtles, and be careful as you walk along the beach that you don’t trip into any turtle holes. The ranger will illuminate the back of the turtle and you can see the eggs plop plop into the nest, up to 100 at a time. The eggs are then collected and returned to the centre where they are buried in the incubation pits.

Getting down to business. Photo taken in or around Turtle Beach Conservation Centre, Ujung Genteng, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Getting down to business. Photo: Sally Arnold

The night we visited we were joined by about 20 mostly domestic tourists for the hatchling release, but to see the nesting we had the privilege of being alone. It really is a remarkable experience having the opportunity to see nature up close, and one not to be missed.

If you are staying at Turtle Beach, follow the track north one kilometre until you reach the well-signed conservation centre. If your accommodation is further south, most visitors hire an ojek for the set rate of 50,000 rupiah, however if you use your own motorbike, make sure you scope the way in the daylight hours beforehand, as the bumpy goat track is difficult to navigate in the dark.

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Turtle Beach Conservation Centre
5km north of Ujung Genteng

Location map for Turtle Beach Conservation Centre

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