Turtle islands

Pulua Bangkaru Travel Blog

 › entry 26 of 44 › view all entries
Hatchling green turtle

Indonesia at last! Medan airport was quite hectic and for the first time in a while we didn’t see any other tourists, we were met by a really friendly lady by the name of Angke who smoothed our journey from Medan to the Banyak islands in Aceh. We were whisked off on a small mini bus accompanied by two other British volunteers, Will and Cindi and we got on really well which was lucky seeing as we were to be stranded on a remote island with them for a month.

Sumatra looked lush and green as we wound our way up out of the city into the hills, the houses were brightly painted and kids and chickens were running about everywhere.

Home sweet home
Large cages lined the roadside inside which resided large fruit bats a local delicacy. Our car broke down and we sat at a road side cafe with a stunning view of the forest. We were soon joined by some boisterous pig tailed macaques and there antics amused us for a while, a large black shape caught my eye and a huge Siamang gibbon leaped a huge distance between two trees, we also saw some leaf monkeys, 3 primate species in 15 minutes, we had a feeling Sumatra was going to be great!

The car arrived and the bad weather set in even thought the view was obscured by thick fog we made out the bases of dormant volcanoes and lush rainforest. We cut past the huge lake Toba and stopped for lunch high up in a cloud/ we then began our descent into Aceh and wound our way through rainforest valleys before reaching the hot coastal swamp and oil palm plantations.

Sun set at base camp
To top the day off a huge hornbill flew low over the car. Our hotel was old and decaying and the town which we were to spend the night in was not very plush but it served its purpose. It pissed it down and the roads were flooded and we tried to find a bite to eat, luckily one bar was open and the cooked us up a great Nasi gorang and we were watched as we crammed our mouths full by an audience of chain smoking old men. Everyone in Indonesia seems to smoke and the cigarettes are flavored with cloves, the smell permeated every where we went.

The next day was a bit touch and go with the weather and so we waited around for a gap between the storms. Suddenly it was all go and we scrambled onto a speed boat and we were off, churning the black waters of the mangrove creak up behind us.

Suzan getting to grips with tagging a nesting green turtle
The swell was huge and we thudded over the waves to the island of Pulua Bali, after 2 hours we pulled up at the most bizarre town I have ever been to. Due to the actions of the 2004 earth quake one side of the island dropped by one meter and the other side rose. There was a huge loss of life and property and to this day half the town is inundated with water at high tide, gardens which once would have sprouted pot plants now supported clown fish, it was other worldly and we felt as if we had walked onto the set of water world. The small town was dominated by three huge gleaming mosques and everyone greeted us with a \"hello Mr.\" it was so friendly. We stayed in a great losman and set off to explore the tiny spit of land. Unfortunately the weather was terrible and we were stranded for two days and were stuffed full of Nasi Gorang and delicious pancakes.
Leather back

The weather cleared and we were so excited to be making our way to Pulua Bangkaru an island only inhabited by 5 researchers, huge and clad in thick jungle and where we were to spend a month working on a sea turtle project. Again the sea was quite ruff and for two and a half hours we crashed through the waves eventually being greeted with a view of P. bangkaru, it looked wild almost prehistoric and we couldn’t wait to set foot on it. We got our first views of the base camp a great timber structure as we made our way round the black rocks into a bay, the staff all rushed down to help us unload and we were shown around. The camp was amazing with a garden full of papaya lemons and coconut. There was a kitchen and showers and our rooms had bunk beds in, it was really luxurious.

Paradise
A group of squirrels competed with the numerous exotic looking birds for fruit and huge monitor lizards lounged around the camp occasionally chasing each other and crashing through the vegetation.

The staff were really friendly and we were fed till bursting with rice, noodles, rice some more rice and fish and every morning we were served up huge banana and coconut pancakes, it was amazing. The first few nights were rainy and so we couldn’t go out and patrol the nesting beach for turtles. However the days were fine and we would trek half an hour through the thick forest full of a million different types of thorns, spikes and prickles to the 1km stretch of sand where the turtles nest, getting to the beach involved crossing a small crocodile inhabited creek but this was fine at low tide and we only saw crocodile tracks once.

Beautiful beach
We would then walk up and down the wind swept beach picking up rubbish that had washed up and recording all the turtle nesting activity on the island and chasing of the monitor lizards and sea eagles who would consume turtle eggs and hatchlings One day we took a long walk to a place called the jungle door a huge aperture of rock set back into the forest looking out to sea, on the way the guys hunted in rock pools with nets and in very little time had caught a ray and several sizeable fish. We drunk fresh coconut juice and had a great time.

The night surveys were great, they began with the slog through the forest and the sound of a thousand horny insects buzzed, beeped and rattled. Tiny mouse deer scampered across our paths, cute geckos with eyes like those of a cat prowled the huge buttress roots, flying frogs chuckled at us as we crossed their pool and we often found snakes and lizards curled up asleep on the end of the branches over hanging the path.

Jungle
We also saw some beautiful birds up close at night as they would also perch on tiny little twigs. Once on the beach we would turn our torches off and start looking out for turtles, the moon was usually so bright we wouldn’t need the light to see by. Each of our steps were illuminated by phosphorescence in the sand which sparkled like stars under our feet. Most nights we saw several huge green turtles slowly lumber out of the water and up the beach where they would begin to select and clean their nesting area, they would then dig the nest and lay about 50 - 100 ping pong ball sized eggs and then dexterously cover the nest over with their rear flippers. It was amazing to watch these prehistoric looking animals go through such labors. Once the egg laying commenced we would measure the turtle, check if it as tagged and if it was not tagged already tag each of its front flippers with a numbered metal staple and we would then record all the nesting behavior.
Turtle beach
We felt so lucky to be seeing these creatures and assist in their protection. For many years the beach had been plundered for its turtle eggs, just by being there we were deterring would be poachers and collecting valuable data.

One morning we encountered a huge green turtle who had managed to get trapped on some rocks and coral and we spent a good hour heaving and coaxing her in the direction of the sea, they are such cumbersome animals on land and she was in danger of over heating from the sun, we were really relived when she swam off into the crashing surf.

The snorkeling was fantastic clown fish shot into their anemones as we swum by and huge trigger fish and rays swam off at our approach. The fish had bizarre names and appearances, sweet lips, unicorn fish, powder blue surgeon and clown trigger fish we spent hours absorbed in the goings on of the reef and would often see turtles cruising by, and they were a totally different animal in the water, graceful and fast.

Sleeping king fisher

The forest by day was also pretty cool, mynah birds were pretty common and their whistles accompanied us on our day time walks, we often saw snakes and lizards and one day Suzan spotted two yellow throated martens crossing the tree bough above us, yarring at each other and crashing on into a palm tree. Another day we aw a Colugo an arboreal  leaf eating mammal with huge eyes and a wing like membrane between arms and legs, every day we saw something new and were never bored.

Camp life was great with brilliant Aceh coffee and endless games of cards. We taught English and tried to learn Indonesian and had a great time. 

On several occasions we were lucky enough to see turtles emerging from the nests and making there way to the sea like tiny clock work toys they moved en masse to the huge crashing waves, they were picked off along the way by creepy looking ghost crabs which we would try and chase off.

Fishing net
The odds are really stacked up against these miniature turtles but we hope that at least some of them will make it through and be able to nest on this wonderful island in the future.

The high light was probably the nights the leatherbacks came to nest. We had seen their huge tracks in the sand, like those of a tractor. We saw three of these ocean giants laying there eggs, a sight we will never forget. They were immense. 1.7meters long with hugs black fins and sleek black shells with longitudinal ridges making the turtle look like it was covered in medieval amour. The texture of the shell was like that of an aubergine. The face was not much to write home about especially from the mucus which ran from its eyes as it laid its eggs, to be honest it had the facial features of an STD, but we were bowled over at seeing such a majestic creature and it is a sight we shall always remember.

Anyone for fish?

In no time at all our month was up and we had to say goodbye to paradise and to the staff who had become our friends, but not before a final beach BBQ, the fish were cooked in a beautiful stuffing within half an hour of being caught over a fire we made as we watched the sun go down, it was the perfect end to a perfect month.

 

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Hatchling green turtle
Hatchling green turtle
Home sweet home
Home sweet home
Sun set at base camp
Sun set at base camp
Suzan getting to grips with taggin…
Suzan getting to grips with taggi…
Leather back
Leather back
Paradise
Paradise
Beautiful beach
Beautiful beach
Jungle
Jungle
Turtle beach
Turtle beach
Sleeping king fisher
Sleeping king fisher
Fishing net
Fishing net
Anyone for fish?
Anyone for fish?
Pulua Bangkaru
photo by: ben_suz