Turtles are among the earth’s most ancient creatures, having lived on our planet for millennia, since the time of the dinosaurs. They play a vital role in our ecosystems, yet many turtle and tortoise species have been hunted to the brink of extinction (for food, traditional medicine and pets), have suffered habitat destruction, global warming, disease and other threats.In honor of World Turtle Day, we look at the sea turtles that brace our shores and remind you to be kind to these laid-back sea creatures, without whom our world wouldn’t be the same.
Sea turtles return to the same nesting grounds at which they were born. When females come to the shore they dig out a nest in the ground with their back flippers, bury their clutch of eggs, sometimes up to a hundred or more, before returning to the ocean. The south of Sri Lanka, from Hikkaduwa to Tangalle has been popular for turtle sightings since the 1980s. The coast is dotted with ‘turtle hatcheries’, which tend to be little more than dreadful tourist traps, where the welfare of wildlife is never at the forefront of the owners minds, so do be wary. Read on to the bottom of the blog for link to what Responsible Travel suggest you ask before visiting anyone associated with Turtle Tourism.
The Five Species of Turtles found on Sri Lanka’s Beaches
The Green Turtle is the most commonly found in Sri Lanka; frequent visitors to the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Their name refers to the color of the fat found under their shells, which unfortunately is used to make turtle soup. Adult females lay between 120-140 eggs at one time and have been regularsalong the beaches in Kosgoda. They tend to nest only every few years.The critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle is renowned for its beautiful shell is rarer and smaller in size to the Green Turtle. The Hawksbill gets its name from its narrow head and bird-like beak, used to catch animals hiding in small crevices. It is a regular visitor to Sri Lanka and other sub-tropical waters. Sadly, the Hawksbill turtle shell is the sole source of commercial ‘tortoise-shells’ and is a major reason for it’s critially endangered status. .
Olive Ridley turtles are primarily carnivores, critically endangered because the population depends on the security of a small number of beaches found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, where they have been heavily hunted in the past for their meat and hide. Leatherback Turtles are easily identifiable due to their long front flippers and unique black and white stripy shell –it is in fact the only sea turtle that lacks a hard shell!The Leatherback reaches a maximum length of 3m and a weight of 750kg. Their unique flexible carapace and seven ridges enable them to dive to depths of 1500m in search of their favorite food, the jellyfish, but sadly they mistake jellyfish for plastic bags, resulting in suffocation. At least five leatherback turtles are known to nest at Kosgoda Beach each year. More commonly found on the East Coast of America, the Loggerhead Turtle is the rarest and most special of sightings in Sri Lanka.
How can we help Sea Turtles?
Make a pledge today to switch to re-usable bags and to glass bottles to keep our oceans cleaner. Plastic straws and plastic bags in particular are a big threat to marine turtles, and are easily mistaken for jellyfish the can becoming lodged in a turtle’s breathing passage, or wrapped around a turtles head, leading to a slow and painful suffocation. Take your waste away with when you leave the beach, pick up other people’s waste if you have to. Recycle. If a hotel is located on a nesting beach, question hoteliers about their efforts to cause as little disruption to the turtle nesting sites, are they involved in conservation efforts, or contribute towards efforts to educate local communities on the importance of turtle conservation. Query the practices of turtle hatcheries, or travel companies offering turtle watching tours, because for every legitimate company, there are a dozen who are simply in the game to exploit nature for profit alone.
Responsible Travel has a very detailed list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to Turtle Tourism, and offer volunteer holidays with vetted and approved organisations in Sri Lanka working with sound conservation credentials.