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On the Frontlines: Meet CI's Ketut Sarjana Putra
Erika Kranz, Staff Writer

Sept. 18, 2006: For Ketut Sarjana Putra, born in a rural fishing village in Bali, Indonesia, coastal areas have always had a special significance. He remembers going to the closest beach to his home for prayer for the Balinese Hindu New Year (Hari Raya Nyepi – the Day of Silence) and other ceremonies, and playing with turtle eggs in the sand. Now, as director of the marine program for CI-Indonesia, Putra works to save these turtles.

His conservation work is closely tied to his Hindu faith. Putra's parents were farmers, cultivating rice in fields passed down by their ancestors. "We believe that our rice fields have a religious connection to our family temple," he says. "That's why we have an obligation not to change the landscape of the fields – we must keep them as they are."

After studying aquaculture techniques at Bogor Agricultural University, he earned his master's degree in integrated coastal management from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom. He particularly enjoyed classes that emphasized the complex nature of coastal issues, which has become his area of expertise.

"I realized that nature was always ignored when people, mainly government officials and other decision makers, speak about money," Putra says. "When making decisions about mangrove conversion, turtle trade, or converting a coastline for a five-star hotel or stores and settlements, science and hard data were not being used."

In his youth, Putra saw the expansion of shrimp farming – development that was good for Indonesia's economy, but wreaked havoc on its environment. It was this experience that made him want to get an education so he could take on policymakers and feel more confident speaking on behalf of nature.

Putra recognizes that Indonesia's people depend very much on natural resources, but that the use of these resources is often unsustainable if left unregulated. But he also says that things are changing in his home country.

"I have seen conservation become a growing new value for many youngsters; this movement motivates me every single day." Human welfare, he feels, is the ultimate goal of his conservation program; science guides and supports protected area creation; and partnerships with communities, governments, and the private sector ensure the success of program goals.

Putra's conservation triumphs began long before he started working for Conservation International (CI) in late 2004. His greatest accomplishment may have been single-handedly halting the sea turtle trade in Bali that was devastating populations of Critically Endangered leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea). Putra garnered support from local religious leaders and communities using, in part, an argument based on traditional Hindu cosmology: Since the world rests on the back of an elephant, which stands atop a turtle, killing these marine reptiles is morally wrong. Though the process was long and difficult, he won over even the turtle hunters themselves, and today the turtle trade is completely banned.

Now, Putra works to maintain partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, governments, and members of the private sector that support CI's conservation mission. Though he's been with CI for just more than a year and a half, he's seen – and helped – the marine program grow, and says he continues to see "huge opportunities for CI to make marine conservation happen."

One of his newer projects is a throwback to his history with sea turtles. A recent survey of the beaches of Java's Alas Purwo National Park revealed that turtles trying to nest there are being hindered by large amounts of driftwood and rubbish on the sand. Putra, always one for rallying community involvement, is planning to work with the local people, including school children, to clean up the beach so the turtles can nest. He hopes that his program can develop a 10-year strategy that will include establishing 10 million hectares of marine protected areas and creating a managed turtle sanctuary network.

On a personal level, Putra enjoys SCUBA diving with his sons and wife, and has high hopes for the natural world. "I would like my twin boys to see good reefs, sea turtles, and whales; eat healthy fish; and enjoy clean beaches in Indonesia when they grow up. Someday I hope they come home and tell me that they see people actively protecting their marine environment, for the environment and for themselves."

He's been inspired by many things in many different places CI works. "In the Raja Ampat Bird's Head Seascape, it's the stunning green and rocky islands that rise above clear water. Around the Cape Kri reef near Kri Island, it's seeing the big schools of jacks and sharks and giant trevally while diving. In the turtle town on Sangalaki Island within the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape, I'm inspired by the dozens of adult green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and sometime hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) resting in clear water just 10 meters deep, and hundreds of manta rays at the surface. In the Togean Islands, my inspiration is the Taipei wall, a healthy reef unaffected by blast-fishing, unlike many others."

Related Links:
> Feature Story: Scientists Confirm Bird's Head Seascape Is Richest


© CI, Amalia Firman
Ketut Sarjana Putra, seen here tagging an Endangered olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys oliveacea) in Alas Purwo National Park.

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