Swimming with Turtles and Sharks on Pulau Serangan

Between Nusa Lembongan and our trip to Java, we spent 2 days on Pulau Serangan, which is a small island connected to the south of Bali by bridge, and which is basically a small-boat harbor for the city of Denpasar.  Locals were surprised when we said we were staying there, as usually visitors just pass through after disembarking a “fast boat” from one of the other islands.  But we stayed there for a good reason: animals!  More specifically, shark and turtle conservation centers.

Some young white-tip reef sharks with whom we went swimming.  These guys were fairly comfortable with us and even let us pet their backs as they swam by.

The first conservation center, called Bali Sharks, collects sharks from fishermen who would otherwise sell their fins for soup, with a strong focus on white and black tip reef sharks, which are some of the most common in the waters around Bali.  If the sharks that the conservation center buys are young and small enough, they will keep them at “Shark Island,” a floating series of large nets and docks out in the harbor, until they reach an appropriate size to be released to a reef area without fishermen, such as at the Gili Islands off of Lombok.  These sharks are not man-eaters, and usually shy away from people, but if exposed regularly enough to humans, they will become comfortable occasionally coming close to mellow swimmers in a peaceful manner, which makes them a hit with reef-snorkelers!

In the meantime, the babies and adolescents swim and grow with others of their own species in one of these netted enclosures, and serve as focal points for local shark education and research efforts.  Tourists don’t come by often, but their donations and tickets for swimming with the sharks appear to be crucial to furthering the conservation program.  And we were happy to support these efforts ourselves, and learn a little something about the sharks along the way.  The numbers for how many sharks die a year in human hands (mostly from carelessness, sport, and food) versus how many humans die from sharks is astonishing, given how large they loom in the human imagination as a major threat in the sea (an estimated 200 million sharks versus 11 people.  Just 11, not 11 million, mind you.).  And this program in Bali is rare in the kind of work it does, despite how threatened these creatures are, making it all the more important.

Feeding time!  (We got to do some of the feeding ourselves, actually, which consisted of throwing small chunks of semi-thawed frozen fish into the water.)  They kept popping their heads out in anticipation.
About to pet sharks! These are black-tip reef sharks, which are a little more nervous and aggressive than the white-tipped (but otherwise very similar).  They were still safe to touch carefully, though.
The sharks are kept in a few small enclosures made of hanging nets with small docks attached that make up an artificial floating island of sorts out in the harbor — until they’re large enough to release into the wild again.

The experience overall was a fascinating opportunity to learn more about these creatures, up close and personal, while supporting a good cause!  And the people at Bali Sharks were professional, friendly, and informative teachers, making their conservation work that much easier to appreciate.

We also visited a sea turtle conservation center with similar goals and practices of acquiring the animals.  We got to wade with them in their enclosure, feed them, learn a little about them, and generally be amazed at the chance to be close to such cool animals that are so different from what we see at home.  This place releases the young ones back into the wild, but keeps the big ones (the biggest, around 50 years old, was maybe 2 1/2 or 3 feet wide!) as attractions to the center to raise money for conservation.

Sea turtles!
We were allowed to feed the turtles some seaweed. They gulped it right down.  In their slow, turtle-y way that is.  (All those shadows and mottled patterns in the water are more turtles – there were so many we couldn’t really walk anywhere as they had buried into the sand or were meandering over our feet with their big flippers.)
And we were allowed to pick them up (briefly)!  They promptly started making powerful swimming motions, so we listened to them and put them back.  But they were pretty amazing to interact with whenever they were cool with it!


Behbeh turtle! It flapped very cutely.

Aside from sharks and turtles, the only other photo potentially worth sharing here was… a single-use container of pineapple jam!  How you know that you’re in the tropics… (and that there wasn’t much else of interest in this town!)



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