Sea turtles became a hot topic in Sri Lanka recently when the media reported the theft of an albino turtle from a commercial hatchery. Albino turtles are a very rare form and they don’t survive in the wild.
During the same time period the police had discovered an illicit turtle slaughter-house in Negombo which had been in operation for 8 months and had seen the killing of over 100 turtles. As turtle flesh rots fast the seller cuts off portions of flesh in quantities requested by the customers. So instead of dying, these animals have to go through the pain of their flesh being cut off while there is still a bit of life in them.
Nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as Endangered. Sri Lanka sees five of the seven species in the world breeding here. They are the Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle and Leatherback Turtle.
It takes about 30 years for female turtles to reach sexual maturity. Once they do, they go back ashore to the beaches in which they were hatched (through an imprint in their brain). Here they dig a hole with their back flippers, lay upto 200 eggs, cover the hole with sand and finally return back to the sea.
After about 50 days the eggs hatch out at night and the baby turtles dig themselves out. Then they move as fast as they can towards the water. It is believed that they’re guided by the sound of the sea and the stars on the horizon. On their way to the water they fall prey to dogs, monitor lizards, gulls, crows and humans. Of the hatchlings that ultimately make it to the sea, only a very few survive as most others are fed upon by fish in the shallow waters.
In Sri Lanka there are a few sea turtle conservation projects being carried out and the one in Kosgoda is the oldest and the most famous out of the lot. Established in 1988 by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka, it has released about 3.5 million baby turtles into the wild.
Under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, it is an offence to kill, wound, or keep a turtle in possession, sell any part of a turtle, or to destroy or take turtle eggs. Action must be taken against those who defy these laws.
As responsible individuals, it is up to us to let everyone know the importance of conserving these ill-fated animals, because they are helpless on their own.