Balinese priests end sea turtle offerings

Posted on February, 24 2005

Balinese priests have taken a stand to end sea turtle consumption in the name of tradition, as local religious leaders agree that for the time being, sacrificial practices involving sea turtles must end.
Bali, Indonesia – Religious leaders and conservationists have taken an unprecedented step by coming together to secure a more positive future for Bali's sea turtles.
Although green turtles have long played a significant, symbolic role in traditional Indonesian Hindu rituals and ceremonies, religious leaders have asked Balinese Hindus to stop using turtle meat in religious ceremonies until such time as the turtle population was deemed stable by the government.  
WWF Indonesia’s Marine Turtle campaign leader, Ida Bagus Windia Adnyana, secured the participation of the high priests for a meeting which included 29 influential Hindu high priests from East Java, Bali and Lombok. 

“This pesamuhan (gathering) is the first of its kind," said I Made Artha, chairman of the Bali Parisadha. "Never before has such a large gathering of respected high priests been called to discuss the issue of turtle conservation.”
In recent decades, Bali has become the centre of Indonesia’s illegal turtle trade. It's thought that between 500 and 1,000 turtles are still illegally imported into the island each month. By the late 1990s, over 20,000 sea turtles were being killed per year. This is not only reducing the turtle population, but also creating ecological strains in numerous sea turtle habitats around the country, such as in Sulawesi and Kalimantan. 
Poachers and traders have saturated the market for turtles claiming that turtle meat is an essential part of Balinese Hindu sacrificial rituals. In turn, local conservation NGOs and law enforcement agencies have been seen as undermining the island’s cultural and religious heritage by trying to make the turtle trade more sustainable.
“Only the biggest sacrificial rituals require turtle meat. By the biggest, I mean rituals aimed at cleansing the island or the world, certainly not rituals or offerings at the family level," stressed the chairman of the Sabha Pandita (Council of High Priests) of the Indonesia Parisadha, Ida Pedanda Sebali Tianyar Arimbawa. 

"In this context, Hindu rituals only need between 100 and 200 turtles per year.”
With the realization of the scale of the crisis facing sea turtles, the high priests issued a seven-point recommendation.

One high priest, Ida Pedanda Gde Bang Buruan Manuaba, suggested the use of turtle shaped rice cakes or pictures of turtles as a substitute for turtle meat. Alternatively, a live turtle could be used for the purposes of the ritual and then released back into the wild. 

“We will present the recommendation at the next Mahasabha (grand convention) of all the country’s Parisadha in March 2005 in Lampung. There is a good possibility that the Mahasabha will agree to adopt the recommendation as a Bhisama (religious decree),” stated Ida Pedanda Sebali Tanyar Arimbawa.
For further information: 
Dewi Satriani, WWF-Indonesia
Marine Programme Communications Officer
Tel: +62 21 576 1070
Green turtles have long played a significant, symbolic role in traditional Indonesian Hindu rituals and ceremonies.
© WWF / Martin Harvey
Indonesian Parisadhas attending a meeting on the plight of the marine turtle in the region.
© WWF-Indonesia / Wayan Juniartha