It survived the dinosaurs. It survived an ice age. But will the majestic green s ea turtle survive us?
The stench of freshly butchered meat grates on the nostrils as I ap proach the turtle slaughterhouse; I can smell it from the grounds of the local p rimary school, 100m away.
The building is about 60m by 10m, and inside are the lobster tanks that are requ ired by law. These are empty. On the other side of the building turtles are pack ed like sardines into more tanks. The floor between these tanks is barely visibl e because it is covered with more than 150 live turtles; it is impossible not to tread on them as I wander around.
Stacked against one wall are shells, some clean, others still covered in blood. Meat is piled high on a board, and the constant thudthudthud of a swinging c leaver echoes round the chamber. Barbaric is too gentle a word for the slaughter ing process I witness; apparently it would ruin the meat to kill them before ski nning them. The turtle, which can live more than 200 years, is one of the few an imals that cries, and on more than one occasion I see tears running down these a nimals' faces.
Scientists believe that 17thcentury Dutch seafarers were barely exaggerating w hen they wrote of being able to walk from one Indonesian island to another acros s the back of green turtles. Now the picture is of an increasingly violent strug gle to protect a 250myearold species. There were green turtles in our seas e ons before dinosaurs tramped the Earth; they survived the last ice age; but they may not be with us much longer.
“There have been massively significant drops in the past 50 to 60 years,” says Klaas Teule, a scientist with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which runs a turtle conservation prject in Bali. “it's hard to put an exact figure on it, but 80% would be on the conservative side.” Turtle experts in Australia believe that in 1900 the region was home to up to one thirdof the world's turtles. Th escale of the slaughter in recent decades, especially the past 10 years, has bee n so great that the figure is now down to 5%.
“Part of the problem is that turtles live so long and they take so long to star t breeding. It takes 20 years to see the impact of what's going on now,” says h is WWF colleague, Ghislaine Llewellyn. “It may already be too late.”
Most countries agreed to ban trading in the seven turtle species a decade ago wh en they signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Indo nesia, which is home to six of the seven species, was one of the signatories, bu t the goernment gave special dispensation to Bali——a 5,000 animal annual quo ta after lobbying from traders on the island. They argued that using turtle s in religious and traditional village ceremonies had been part of Balinese cult ure for centuries.
Conservationists claim that businessmen then flocked to the island and began ram pantly abusing this quota. “The reality is that there was no proper monitoring of the quota and no law enforcement, so the traders could do what they liked,” says Purwo, a memeber of the Indonesian campaigning group Animal Conservation Fo r Life (KSBK). Research carried out by KSBK found almost 30,000 turtles passed t hrough Tanjung in 1999, and that the figure was not much lower in previous years . The actual death toll is much greater because thousands more turtles are caugh t in fishing nets and suffocate.
Responding to this pressure, the Balinese governor withdrew the quota in June an d banned turtle trading and consumption.
这个屠宰用的屋子长约60米，宽约10米。根据法律规定，屋内摆放着装龙虾的缸子。但都是 空的。屋子另一侧放的缸子更多，里面的海龟象沙丁鱼一样被塞得满满的。150多只海龟散 在缸外，几乎覆盖了地面；我在屋里行走时只好踩在它们背上。
龟壳堆在墙边，有的已洗净，有的还留着血迹。龟肉摞在高处的一块木板上，屋子里回荡着 屠宰刀来回使用时发出的沙沙声。用“野蛮”一词远不能形容我目睹的宰杀过程的残忍：一 看便知，只有先从活海龟身上刮掉龟皮，再宰杀它才不会破坏龟肉。作为仅有的几种会喊叫 的海洋动物之一，海龟的寿命达200多年。我已不止在一个场合看到这些海龟眼角流泪。
据17世纪荷兰海员记述，在印度尼西亚，绿海龟多得可以踩着它们的后背从一个岛走到另一 个岛，科学家们认为这并不夸张。目前的情况则是为保护这一寿命达250年之久的物种而开 展的斗争正日益激烈。恐龙在地球上出现之前绿海龟于就已在古生代出现；在最后一个冰河 时期绿海龟也幸存下来；但它们与我们在一起的日子可能不多了。
世界自然保护基金会（WWF）科学家卡拉斯·特尔在巴厘岛成立了的一个海龟保护组织，“ 在过去的50－60年里，海龟的数量骤然减少”，他说：“很难列出具体数字，但80％尚趋保 守”。澳大利亚研究海龟的专家认为，1900年巴厘岛曾生存着世界上1/3的海龟。过去几十 年，尤其近十年，乱捕滥杀海龟之多，以至于现在已减少到5％了。
“问题还在于海龟寿命很长，长期的性成熟后才开始繁殖。现在这一切对将来的影响，只有 等20年后才能看到，”特尔的一位世界自然保护基金会（WWF）的同事吉丝雷·鲁利恩说， “但那时也许已经亡羊补牢，为时过晚了。”
十多年前，在签订《濒危动植物国际贸易公约》（CITES）时，很多国家都同意禁止对世界 上的7种海龟的贸易。印度尼西亚是缔约国之一，其中六种海龟就生活在那里。但在岛上的 商人游说之后，印尼政府却给予巴厘岛特殊照顾──每年5，000只海龟的配额。商贩的理由 是村落举行宗教和传统仪式时用海龟祭祀在几个世纪以来已成为巴厘文化的一部分了。
环保主义者说，商人云集巴厘岛，开始滥用此项配额。“由于没有对此项配额进行适当监控 和法律缺乏执行措施，商贩们可以为所欲为”。普沃说，他是印度尼西亚动物保护（KSBK） 倡议小组的一名成员。KSBK通过研究发现1999年有30，000只海龟在坎昆死亡，而前几年的 海龟死亡数与此相差不大。由于成千上万只海龟因意外地闷死在捕捞虾、鱼的网具中，海龟 的实际死亡数要多得多。面对压力，巴厘岛的总督终于在6月取消了此项配额，对海龟贸易 和消费施以禁令。