Going turtles in Sri Lanka

Beach outside Galle

Beach outside Galle

“Last night, I found a mother turtle on this beach and we recovered 60 eggs,” Costa, a local living near my beach resort proudly told me. Before I could get upset about him touching the turtle’s eggs, he continued: “I called the volunteers of the local turtle hatchery and they keep them safe there until they hatch and are big enough to be released.”

Nearby, the Victor Hasselblad sea-turtle hatchery on the palm-fringed beaches of Kosgoda, a couple of hours’ drive south of Colombo on the tear-drop shaped island of Sri Lanka, is one of many on the island that has been set up to aid the plight of the many turtles that come to lay their eggs on Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches.

The hatchery that was started over a generation ago out of a desire to help Sri Lanka’s extensive but steadily declining turtle population is mostly staffed with volunteers and survives due to the tourist trade.

Employee Chandra explains that when he was young, growing up by the sea left him with a deep interest in marine creatures and a desire to help them. Recognising the struggles the turtles had to go through (only one per cent of turtle eggs make it to adulthood), fighting a worldwide decline exaggerated only by the local population’s unscrupulous will to supplement their fishing income with turtle eggs, the sought-after turtles’ scutes (shells), their meat and even blood, Chandra started off by buying a few turtle eggs from a fisherman and hatching and raising them in a safe environment.

Egg Hatchery

Egg Hatchery

Now guards patrol the busy nesting beaches day and night to spot turtles laying their eggs. After the mother turtle has safely laid the eggs, recovered from the strain and returned to the sea, the volunteers will come and carefully dig up the soft ping-pong-ball-sized eggs, to re-bury them inside the hatchery in a marked spot. Then 48 to 52 days later, the sand will dip down, indicating to those in the know that hatching is imminent. Once the miniature turtles come up flapping through the white sand, they are gently handled and put into one of four holding tanks for safe-keeping. “The baby turtles have open bellybuttons, which make them more prone to infection and easier prey, especially with the smell of yolk still clinging onto them. But after four days most of the bellybuttons will have closed, the smell gone and then we release the babies at dusk, to further their chances of reaching the sea safely,” Chandra explains. This piece of information works wonders with the tourists, most of whom – like me – did not know that turtles even had bellybuttons.

Baby Turtles

Baby Turtles

Although frowned upon by serious biologists, Chandra and his troop of volunteers allow tourists to hold their little charges – you can fit four babies into one hand – but watch over too eager hands, and that brings in desperately needed funds. Busloads of tourists and school children arrive every day and enjoy a brief lecture about Sri Lanka’s five species of marine turtle – out of seven species found worldwide – that breed regularly on the island’s beaches.

Considering the token entrance fee, supplemented only by the sales of a small gift shop, it is obvious that the hatcheries mainly survive due to love shown for the gentle creatures by Chandra and his team. And all they hope for is that one day a handful of the well over one million released babies makes it back to their home beach and lay the next generation of eggs.

All pictures by Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey.

 

GUEST WRITER:

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance writer currently based in the United Arab Emirates. Originally from Germany, she moved to the UK after finishing school to study Marine Biology and ended up with a Bachelor of Science degree and a husband. After 10 years in the UK, she relocated to Qatar where she started writing in earnest and soon got ‘snapped up’ by Qatar Airways who put her in charge of publishing their monthly newsletter, writing daily press releases, speeches for senior management, brochures and web content for the airline and, last but certainly not least, putting together the monthly inflight magazine, Oryx. Eventually leaving Qatar for a one year long interlude in Oman, she now lives in Dubai freelancing full time for a myriad of regular regional as well as international clients. Having so far published some 1,000 articles, features and news items in magazines, ezines and newspapers around the world, not to mention plenty of copy-writing credits, she specialises on life & style, travel and local issues, but is happy to tackle any request, as Ulrike feels that “there is nothing that isn’t interesting, if only you research it well”.  In her spare time she reads voraciously and is always busy booking the next trip abroad. Having so far ‘collected’ 57 countries around the world and counting, she has made a promise to herself to add at least one new country to the list every year …
Website:  www.ulwoolfrey.com
Blog:  Life… wherever

Share

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.