Sea Turtle Sanctuary: The Best Way to Conserve Endangered Turtles?

Located in Habaraduwa, a few miles from trendy Unawatuna Beach, the Sea Turtle Hatchery is one of many along the Sri Lankan coastline. A must-visit for vacationers in the southern part of the island nation, it has one objective: “Save, conserve, and keep the turtle population intact.”

The Tour

Upon arriving, Kisha, the tour guide, gave visitors a tour of the hatchery. Her detailed explanations were useful for anyone who wished to know more about these sea creatures. “Among the seven species, five live in Sri Lanka,” she explains.

Different species of sea turtles found at the hatchery

The Leatherback turtle is the largest on Earth, reaching up to 6 ft. in length and weighing over 2,000 lbs. The shell consists of one plate with five ridges that differentiate from the others. The Green turtle, reaching up to 3 ft. long and weighing over 350 lbs, has a shell with a pigment that looks like the sun’s rays. On the other hand, Loggerhead turtles are the most common in Florida, and they can reach up to 4 ft. long and weigh over 450 lbs. Their very large head of reddish brown color is a distinctive feature. Then there’s the Hawksbill turtle that grows 3.5 ft. long and weighs up to 180 lbs. Named for the shape of their beak, which looks similar to the beak of a raptor, these turtles have beautiful shell patterns and were hunted nearly to extinction. The Kemp’s Ridley turtles, named after R. Kemp, the fisherman who first described them in 1906, has a length up to 30 inches and weighs about 80 lbs. It’s the smallest of the seven species.

The hatchery houses a hatching farm, a sand pit in which an identification card is placed with information about the type of turtle, the date, and the number of eggs. There’s also a small exhibition to learn how to identify the different type of eggs and baby turtles. When the eggs hatch, they aren’t released into the ocean right away. The guide told us that the survival rate is substantially higher if they’re released a bit older and bigger. As we all know, there are predators lurking around the beaches and see these cute, little black turtles as their main meal. Only one out of 100 survives the dangers of the oceans.

“Most of the turtles (five out of the seven species) live and originate close to Sri Lanka, and most are probably encountered while snorkeling or scuba diving,” our guide said.

Next, we were directed to a tank where baby turtles are kept before being released into the ocean, which always occurs at around 5:00 p.m. Watching this event is possible with a simple donation, and the money is always used for turtle conservation projects. The turtles appeared to be very happy swimming in their tanks, seemingly unaware of the challenges of the ocean they were about to face. Even though it isn’t allowed to touch them, we were lucky that the guide let us hold a baby turtle; my son was elated. There were hundreds of baby turtles of different species swimming in the tank. By the way, the sex of the turtle can’t be determined for several years.

Several other tanks contained various species of turtles of different ages and sizes saved from fishing nets, motorboat or natural injuries by either locals, fishermen, or animal conservation groups. Those turtles were waiting to be released upon healing at one point, but no one knew when.

The two injured turtles injured by a motorboat weren’t able to submerge. They were found simply floating at the water ‘s surface. The conservation group was hoping that they would learn to submerge once again so that they could return to their ocean home one day. There were also Hawksbill turtles swimming in a tank, and seemed to enjoy their time, all the while showing their faces to visitors.

What’s interesting is that at night many locals dig in the beaches to find these eggs, so that they can sell them to the conservation groups and make a living from it. You may see people as well as conservation groups collecting eggs in order to bring them to the hatchery.

The cost of visiting the hatchery is merely 500 rupees ($3), but kids are free. Even though hatcheries are small in size, with a few tanks on display, they make an effort to safeguard the species and contribute to their propagation. Sometimes you may not see sea turtles in hatcheries because they’ve been released into the ocean; so, you’ll want to call those locations in advance or reschedule your visit for another time when there are turtles to admire.

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