Special ecosystem area set to protect snake-necked turtle in Rote

Snake-necked turtle, Rote island’s econic, and the only one of the genus Chledonia that lives outside the plains of Papua/Australia. (photo: Maslim As-Singk)

IO – Maximum appreciation to the Government of East Nusa Tenggara Province for having set aside the wetlands Essential Ecosystem Area as a habitat for the snake-necked turtle (Chelodina mccordi) in the District of Rote Ndao.

An “Essential Ecosystem Area” refers to one outside a Natural Conservancy Area, one which has important value ecologically to sustain life through efforts in biodiversity conservation which will lead to the wellbeing and quality of human communities living in the area.

The snake-necked turtle in Rote is one among 32 turtle species in Indonesia and 25 of the rarest species in the world (Turtle Conservation Coalition, 2018). Since 2018 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared that the status of Chelodina mccordi population in Rote Island is near extinction, and even total extinction is a possibility.

It was thus a prudent decision by the Government of East Nusa Tenggara Province to set aside the three lakes (Peto, Lendoen, and Ledulu) as the last suitable habitat in the Essential Ecosystem Area to protect the Rote snake-necked turtles.

BBKSDA and the Government of East Nusa Tenggara Province actually brought back Rote snake-necked turtles from various agencies overseas to become a breeding population ready to be re-introduced to Rote Island. For this reason it is hoped that this commitment is supported by all, especially by the communities living near the habitat of snake-necked turtle, as they are the most important stakeholders in the effort to replenish the animal in nature; they also know that protecting the Rote snake-necked turtle and its habitat means sustains the availability of water sources, which is most vital for the lives of people in Rote Ndao.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of KSDAE in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Wiranto, declared that the management of the Essential Ecosystem Area should be coordinated locally between the government and the people, taking into account traditional and cultural values. 

“The management of the Essential Ecosystem Area should also bring economic benefits, especially to the people,” said Wiranto.

The Director of Environment and Forestry for the East Nusa Tenggara Province, Ferdy, J. Kapitan, said that the Essential Ecosystem Area was proof of the commitment by the local government to keep and sustain the gifts of nature that would give rise to the people’s welfare, by managing the rare species’ ecosystem as one of the new tourist destinations in East Nusa Tenggara.

As a further implementation of the Governor’s decision, management of the Essential Ecosystem Area will be carried out intensively, in a collaboration between the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the Government of the District of Rote Ndao, Universities, and local people.

“For us, keeping and preserving the Rote snake-necked turtle, which is an endemic species, will not only be an obligation or a must but also has become a need that will continue for generations among the government, private sectors, and the people,” said he.

Meanwhile, the Director of BBKSDA of East Nusa Tenggara Province, Timbul Batubara, said that the snake-necked turtle was an endemic species that had become rare in nature. The species has been protected since 2018 by a Decree of the Minister of Environment and Forestry Number 106.

“The Governor’s Decision Number 204 in the year 2019 is an extraordinary event. We are very grateful. It is the bridge in managing the Rote snake-necked turtle which should be done in coordination between various stakeholders. Because of the Decision, all parties have to cooperate for the sake of the preservation of Rote snake-necked turtle,” explained the Director of BBKSDA of East Nusa Tenggara Province, Timbul Batubara.

Setting the Essential Ecosystem Area is the beginning and a stepping stone for replenishing the population of Rote snake-necked turtles in their natural environment. Concrete and continuous efforts to achieve this are still needed. Commitment by the local government and various stakeholders show a new future for the endemic Rote turtle. (Mahra)