Sukamade Turtle Beach, East Java

Sukamade beach is about 97 km to southwest of Banyuwangi. It is a natural, quiet, beautiful place and part of the 50,000 hectare Meru Betiri National Park.

Almost every night of the year, turtles appear on Sukamade beach to lay eggs. It is clearly a globally important site and one which is protected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by the over-worked park rangers. Some eggs are taken by the rangers to protect them from predators, both human and other animals. These are incubated in the safety of the park hatchery and the youngsters are released to the ocean on the very beach from where the eggs were laid. There are similar beaches within the park boundary but it seems to be Sukamade that the turtles prefer.

The stability of the turtle population has been helped by a careful system of tagging and monitoring, as well as the use of the special hatcheries. Watching these giant creatures emerge from the surf and struggle-up the beach to lay their eggs on a moonlit night is a unique and unforgettable experience, and one which is certain to ensure Sukamade’s ever-growing profile. This is certainly off the beaten track and requires some effort to reach but it is very worthwhile indeed.

History

The Meru Betiri National Park officially came into being in 1982 but Sukamade has had a turtle conservation facility since 1972. Since then, nearly 3,000 turtles have been tagged here. Records show that the Dutch first found this beach as recently as the 1920s.

Landscape

Lush coastal tropical forest including fringing mangroves with some more open savannah-like areas. The beaches are stunning with white sand and big waves.

Flora and fauna

At Sukamade Beach itself: green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, olive ridley turtle and the occasional leatherback.

The wilderness jungle of the surrounding Meru Betiri National Park is probably the last hope for a surviving Java tiger. The only recent evidence though has been footprints and faeces and your chance of seeing one is as close to nil as to be irrelevant. Some of the rangers believe the tiger is already extinct while even the most optimistic estimates put the population in low single figures.

Other mammals present in the park include banteng, leopard cat, wild pig, muntjac and Java rusa deer. There is also a diverse and varied birdlife.

Climate

Tropical and not noticeably different from elsewhere in Java. It rains a lot from December through March when the rivers (which are always difficult to cross) may prove to be impassable and the way in very difficult to negotiate.

Get There

From Banyuwangi area – Sukamade can be approached from Banyuwangi to the northwest or from Jember to the north-east. This journey requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle or large truck for the last 50 km. Hiring a driver/guide guided in Banyuwangi with a suitable 4 x 4 is certainly the most comfortable way. The roads are very rough and several rivers need crossing via fords (there are no bridges) – a regular road car will not make this. The journey into Sukamade bench is a good 3-4 hours of off road drive involving mountain tracks, river and plantations. Enjoy very nice scenery along the ride which included rice fields, coco plantations, cliff and beaches. You should aim to stay at least one night at Sukamade, take in the beauty of the beach and understand the place. That being said, visitors do day trip from Banyuwangi (returning very late at night as you need to be on the beach in the hours of darkness for the full turtle experience).
From Kalibaru area – , located 60 km east of Jember. From here, stay at the splendid Margo Utomo Homestay (see lodging below) and they will organise to get you to Sukamade by renting jeep.

Get Around

Beach is only 5 mins walk away from the Guesthouse and it is marvellous – long sandy beach and beautiful waves 24 hours. You can visit the hatchery to see the eggs and turtles that will be released into the sea. Turtle watching begins around 8 pm – 10 pm. The guide will bring you to the beach where all must then turn off all lights and remain silent. While waiting, take a look at the sky – the stars are bright and beautiful. When the rangers spotted egg laying turtle, all must hurry to the part of the beach where the turtle has been spotted. Depending on where is the turtle, this can involve walking 1 km on sandy beach in darkness with only moon light and starlight (no torch lights allowed).

On reaching the site, all were told not to stand in front of the turtle (only behind and at the side of her). No flash light photography and the ranger will only shine light from behind the turtle. All this is to avoid disturbing the turtle. From many articles in other forum, these rules are unfortunately not observed. It is sad to see that the excitement of many tourists many have caused disturbance to the turtles. This may have impact on their future breeding patterns on the beach. Please remember that the sight is already magnificent to watch even without good photographs, it will leave wonderful memories in everyone’s mind forever. The eggs will then be collected by the rangers after the turtle returns to the sea. The eggs will be kept in semi natural hatchery until the babies came out from their egg shells. These babies will then be released back to the sea. All are invited to witness the releasing of hatched turtles from the hatcheries into sea in the next morning.

See

Four different species of sea turtle lay eggs on the beach here and every night of the year there are turtles to see. If there is a preferred time to visit it would be at a full moon and the attendant high tide. To watch a turtle laying her eggs here is a once in a lifetime experience.
The hatchery facility. Young turtles of all four species are incubate here and released back to the ocean safe from predators. See the youngsters at the hatchery and learn about the process.
Coffee and Cacao plantations which are close to the beach.
Teluk Hijau is a fabulously attractive bay nearby with cliffs abutting a white sand beach.

Do

Visiting turtle area – and Make a generous donation. The park rangers are very dedicated and work extremely hard to protect the turtles. They are up against it as poaching still occurs and turtle eggs are still for sale illegally in East Java. A key issue is that there are just not enough rangers to cover to such a large area. This is a really worthy effort and one which any visitor should support generously. This unique National Park is under threat from gold mining companies as gold deposits have been found in the area. Night at Sukamade beach looking for turtles laying eggs followed by morning release of baby turtles into the sea is the main activity visitors usually come for. Stay at least one day and explore the park. There is diverse range of birds and mammals to be seen and the beaches are just stunning. One day treks through the park must be arranged in advance, so that a ranger is available as a guide (the English speaking ranger`s name is June). Camping – Camping is very possible at Sukamade area.

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