Rona’s Roar; SPCA Inspector Steph visits Bali turtle rescue
Nestled in the Lesser Sunda Islands and surrounded by the warm Indian Ocean, Bali is a destination of vacation dreams.
With its white sandy beaches, rolling surf, and culture steeped in fascinating history, this Indonesian island is a top destination choice for many travellers worldwide.
While Bali may be a small island, it is home to a complex ecosystem and its surrounding tropical waters, and apt location within the ‘coral triangle’, fosters a thriving marine wildlife. One of the most iconic species Bali is known for is sea turtles. It’s these much-loved reptiles that drove the most recent winner of the SPCA Rona’s Roar Staff Excellence Award, Steph Sterrenburg, to visit the island.
After dedicating the last seven years to life at SPCA, Steph’s expertise extends further than just in her current role as an Inspector. She began by volunteering and progressed to working in an array of areas including the canine team, hospital reception, and as a field officer. Steph’s passion is undoubtable and her desire to advocate for every element of animal welfare – now working on the front line to rescue animals in need - made her a fitting winner of the 2018 Rona’s Roar award. She follows in the footsteps of colleague and fellow SPCA Inspector, Kevin, who won the award the inaugural award in 2017 and chose to visit the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia.
Sea turtles hold a special place in the hearts of many Balinese. Unfortunately, in recent years they have been subject to excessive poaching for their meat or shells which are used to make jewellery. They are now an endangered species in Bali and their numbers have severely depleted. In an attempt to combat this, a multitude of local and international rescues organisations have cropped up and combined efforts to help protect sea turtles and restore population numbers.
Green Lion Volunteer Organisation
Green Lion Volunteer Organisationrun a turtle rescue sanctuary located on a smaller island called Nusa Penida, just off the mainland of Bali, and this is where Steph spent her second weekvolunteering on the sea turtle rescue programme. The sanctuary focuses on rescue and rehabilitating injured turtles, nurturing orphaned young, identifying turtle species, collecting eggs, monitoring nests and seeing that the hatchlings get safely to sea.
“Everything about Bali seemed captivating to me and the idea of helping turtles, who are so different to the animals I see every day, won me over,” says Steph, who admits that this was a big trip for her; it was her first time leaving New Zealand! “It was my first real holiday, so part of me was petrified of being in a completely different country, but so excited too,” she says.
Stepping off the plane and welcomed by Bali’s tropical warm air, Steph spent her first week on the island immersing herself in Balinese culture. As part of the programme, volunteers are encouraged to learn about how locals live before getting hands on with helping the resident sea turtles. Steph’s adventures included a cooking class trying the local cuisine, Batik painting, Beginners language class, Balinese traditional dance shows and visiting sacred temples. On the weekend days she adventured out discovering hidden beaches and waterfalls, and hiking up Mount Batur to watch the sunrise.
“These moments just made me realise how wonderful the island is and how welcoming Balinese communities are. Every single person I met was lovely and humble, no matter their background,” says Steph.
Following her first, Steph made the boat trip across to Nusa Penida to join fellow volunteers working at the turtle sanctuary. Steph explains residents do all they can: “Some people have no power or water and live in huts made from flax. Despite this, there’s lots of effort being made by the locals to work with rescue organisations and help sea turtles.”
Beach clean up
What does the turtle rescue volunteer programme consist of? After receiving briefings and training, the volunteers are split into three task groups: feeders, tank cleaners and beach cleaners.
“Each day, we walked down from the compound we were staying in and given an assigned group. Feeders headed down to the beach to catch fresh live crab for the turtles and prep this for each individual turtle. Sometimes the dogs who also live at the sanctuary would help us catch and bring back the food. It was pretty entertaining!”
Tank cleaners are tasked with cleaning multiple tanks per day to keep the sick or injured turtles healthy. While hands on work with the wild turtles is limited for their health and wellbeing, Steph describes how the volunteers helped conduct health checks and keep them clean, “We used a toothbrush to give the adult turtles a gentle clean and used a soft sponge for the babies. I’d never been up this close with turtles before, so it was a pretty amazing moment.”
Beach cleaners had the important task of clearing rubbish from the local beach, all of which is a substantial hazard for local marine wildlife. “It’s a sad reality of so many beaches these days, but there is rubbish and fishing nets scattered all along the shoreline which dramatically impacts on the turtles.”
Each day, all of the turtles being cared at the sanctuary are closely monitored, and the team of volunteers band together to help each turtle make a full recovery. Then, Friday is release day, where the hard work pays off and any turtles that are ready are given a safe pathway back to the ocean where they belong, Steph explains. “That’s a pretty special moment for all involved.”
Opportunity of a lifetime
In her role as an Inspector Steph rescues New Zealand’s animals so it’s only natural she arranged to visit other rescue organisations on the island too. She visited Paws of Nusa Penida run by one woman with a mission to provide stray dogs with vet care and desexing, and other rescues called BARC 4 Bali dogs and Villa Kitty Bali.
“It was so eye opening seeing how little (or no!) funding these shelters receive and the amazing work they do for the animals in the community,” says Steph.
Since returning to New Zealand Steph kept in touch with people in Bali who are as passionate about animal welfare as she is. Just a few months later, Steph has accepted a role working full time with one of the Bali rescue shelters and is moving her whole life there! She will be sharing some of her animal welfare knowledge gained while working at SPCA.
Her first trip overseas was truly an unforgettable one and has resulted in a very unexpected departure from New Zealand! “Rona’s Roar has truly changed my life for the better, and for that I can’t be thankful enough,” says Steph, who is excited to be relocating to Bali.
“I fell in love with the culture, people and the place. Although they have no welfare laws I found people were extremely caring and loving towards animals. I saw a lot of stray animals, some sick and injured, but there are some fantastic rescue organisations working hard to help and educate the community. I can’t wait to help the Balinese community achieve the best outcome for animals.”