Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Sea Turtles breathe new life (Sri Lanka) – via Herp Digest

Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka, 1/6/13, by W.T.J.S. Kaviratne -Ambalangoda Special Correspondent

There are over 20 turtle conservation centres in Sri Lanka at present. The majority of these “ex-situ” conservation centres are along the coastal stretch of Kosgoda, Induruwa, Seenigama and Habaraduwa on the Southern Coast.

The island’s first turtle hatchery was set up at Kosgoda in 1978 with financial assistance of a German national, Victor Hasselblad, the owner of the company which made the world-famous Hasselblad cameras.

Dr. Upen de Silva, the late Dr. Wickremesinghe and Similias de Abrew were the other partners of this turtle conservation project. After the demise of the founder Similias Abrew who lived in Kosgoda, his son Chandrasiri Abrew undertook the management of the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre. Over four million turtle hatchlings born at the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre had been released so far to the nearby sea, Chandrasiri Abrew said.

According to scientific research, it is estimated that there are eight species of sea turtles in the world. Five of these species are in the habit of frequenting the beach stretches of the South Coast of Sri Lanka.

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley Turtle (Lapidochleys olivacea), Hawskbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) visit the Southern, Western and South-Western coastline of Sri Lanka for nesting.

Unlike in the past, the fisherfolk on the South Coast now extend their cooperation for the conservation of turtles and have given up killing turtles for their flesh, Abrew said. The hatchery owners buy the eggs of turtles from the fisherfolk who collect the eggs from the nests at night.

Coral mining and illegal methods of fishing with the use of explosives have already destroyed the foraging grounds of turtles such as coral reefs and sea-grass beds in the ocean.

A turtle has a lifespan of nearly 80 years and a female turtle lays around 80 to 120 eggs in each nest dug into sand in the natural habitats. They lay eggs five times during a season.

The eggs are hatched within 45 - 60 days and after two or three days, the hatchlings come out of the nest and make their way straight to the sea. The hatchlings are known to swim non-stop for two days in a phenomenon known as “juvenile frenzy”.

Juvenile frenzy
Hatchlings do not need anything to feed during this juvenile frenzy as the strength is stored in their bodies. The hatchery owners bury the eggs in hand-dug chambers.

Even though keeping new-born turtle hatchlings in concrete tanks filled with sea water is a controversial environmental issue, contrary to natural conservation known as “in–situ” conservation, the turtle hatchery owners say they keep a very few of the new-borns in their tanks and 80 percent are safely released to the sea within 24 hours, during the dark hours of the evenings. The remaining 20 percent are released after two days.

According to the owners of turtle conservation centres, human activities such as the construction of tourist hotels in close proximity to the beach, removal of foliage in the beach, erecting powerful electric lamp posts on the beach, construction of boulders and beach erosion are some of the factors causing the fast dwindling of turtles.

Many of these turtle conservation centres have become rehabilitation centres as well for the physically handicapped turtles caught on beach stretches. There are blind and injured turtles in these conservation centres undergoing treatment. Some turtles have lost their limbs as a result of being run over by motor boats.

Hatchery owners said they retain albino turtles for nearly five years in the tanks and release them to the sea.

Maintaining a turtle hatchery is very expensive, they said. Nearly Rs. 500,000 needs to be spent to look after a turtle for five years. A large amount of money has to be spent on the construction and repair of tanks, pumping sea water, cleaning and purchasing fish for feeding. They said they depend entirely on the entrance fees charged from tourists and during the off-seasons they find it extremely difficult to maintain the turtle conservation centres.

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