One of the things that I was looking most forward to during our two weeks in Sri Lanka was sea turtles. I had never seen one and I think that they are one of the most gorgeous creatures. I didn’t do much research on it prior to our trip, but on arrival I quickly realized that there are sea turtle hatcheries everywhere! Seriously, you cannot drive down the areas of the West coast without seeing a turtle hatchery every few kilometers. We ended up visiting the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Center in Kosgoda. Here’s my take on the Turtle hatchery Sri Lanka scene.
I feel a little ashamed to say that as an animal and nature lover, but more specifically with an extreme love for the ocean and sea life, I was very much misinformed and naive when it came to the Sri Lanka turtle hatchery “business.” In all honesty I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Kosgoda turtle hatchery. It wasn’t until after the experience and when I did a little research that I realized that there are some serious questions that need to be raised regarding the turtle hatchery Sri Lanka scene.
Visiting a sea turtle hatchery, Sri Lanka
The first thing that I want to mention is that I initially thought that there was a difference between a hatchery and “conservation project.” But, after doing my research there doesn’t appear to be much difference at all. It seems that a lot of these establishments market themselves as “sea turtle conservation projects.” Because many of the sea turtle species in these establishments are endangered, they describe themselves as organizations that are 100% committed to conserving these beautiful creatures. This often isn’t the reality – it is a business and there is money to be made.
The second thing that I want to mention is that I am by no means saying not to visit a turtle hatchery. There is a lot of good being done by many of them – certainly at the Kosgoda hatchery that we visited. However, there are a few other things to consider which would have made me think twice before we went.
Lastly, if you do decide to visit a sea turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka, or anywhere for that matter, make sure that it is a legit one. There are many establishments that don’t really have any care for these creatures, and are just interested in making a profit. Of course, this often isn’t the case but it’s good to be aware.
Our experience at a sea turtle hatchery, Sri Lanka
In our defence, although I’m not trying to make any excuses, how we ended up at Kosgoda turtle hatchery wasn’t exactly by choice. We were taking a taxi down from Bentota to Hikkaduwa and the taxi driver took us there en route. During our ride he was asking all about our Sri Lanka experience so far and what we wanted to do. I mentioned that I would really love to see some sea turtles.
We had heard from a local in Bentota that if we woke up early in Hikkaduwa, we could see sea turtles come up onto the main beach at sunrise. The females come up to lay their eggs in the sand before it gets light. This sounded magical to me. For starters, sunrises are one of the most beautiful things in the world. And also, I loved the idea of watching sea turtles from afar in their natural habitat. This was what I had in mind when I said I wanted to experience sea turtles. Or possibly while out snorkelling or diving.
Nevertheless, when the taxi driver mentioned visiting a turtle sanctuary we didn’t seem to hesitate. He was rather persistent, but if we really wanted to, we could have declined. So we arrived at Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Center with our camera in hand. We were very excited to see and learn all about sea turtles.
I honestly cannot fault Kosgoda on any part of our experience. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and informative. I asked many questions and he answered all of them very well. He also seemed sincerely passionate about sea turtles and their conservation.
I had a wonderful experience here and left pretty much satisfied. The one thing that bothered me, that I will discuss in more detail below, is that the turtle tanks seemed very small. But at the time I brushed it off. If you have a look at my Facebook page you will see that I was very pleased and supportive of the turtle hatchery, Sri Lanka situation.
What to think about: Sea Turtle Hatchery, Sri Lanka
Now, it’s only after our experience and having done a little research that I have started to question the turtle hatchery Sri Lanka scene. In all honesty, this post was originally going to be about how great the Kosgoda research & conservation center was. Again, I don’t want to take anything away from this organization because I truly believe that they are helping in some way. But, if I had done a little research beforehand, I doubt I would have visited any.
The size of the “tanks”
For starters, the turtle tanks were all very small. I’m not great at measurements, but most were probably the size of a hot tub, possibly a little bigger. During our tour the guide explained that most of the turtles are rehabilitated and then set free again. This eased my mind a little – they wouldn’t be in the tank for too long, right? Well, there are a few turtles that are too injured and can never be set free. This means that they will be in those tanks for the rest of their days.
So, this was one of the questions I asked, “Aren’t the tanks too small?” He explained that he also thought they were small. He went on to say that they can only do so much and that they are doing what they can and setting free the turtles that will be able to survive in the wild again. At the time, and still now to some extent, I understand where he is coming from. However, it’s still not “right.” I highly doubt that it’s an enjoyable environment for a sea turtle or any creature to be living in.
Interacting with the turtles
The other issue is the holding and touching of the sea turtles. I feel ashamed to say that we both did this and have the photos to prove it. I can’t say that I didn’t know that this probably isn’t a nice experience for the turtles, because I’m NOT that naive. But, caught up in the moment we thought that it was the coolest thing. We didn’t really think about the turtles. The guide also heavily encourages touching, holding and taking photos with the sea turtles. Looking back, I really wish we hadn’t. We could have just looked and listened without the need to get a few “cool photos.”
Having thought about the whole thing now, I truly feel that they could run the sanctuary, give the tour, and educate visitors without allowing the turtles to be touched or held. It must be traumatising for these animals to be lifted in and out of the water the whole day.
Another concern is the hatchery which is a fenced off area at the back of the establishment. The guide explained that the eggs are collected from the nest on the beach in the front. They are then buried in the hatchery until they hatch. All around the hatchery are signs at each “nest” to clarify the species of the turtle.
If the eggs are left on the beach, they are often eaten by predators or taken by poachers, and sold on the black market. If this is the case, the hatchery setup is not the worst thing. However, after doing some research I found that there are a few big problems with hatcheries.
For starters, hatcheries make the turtles weaker. Because the turtles are placed into tanks first they initially don’t have to fight off predators or the tide. So it’s believed that they aren’t able to build up the necessary strength needed in the first few days of their lives. This makes them weaker when they they finally do make it to sea.
Hatcheries also disturb the gender of the turtles. By moving the eggs to the hatchery from the beach, the temperature is upset. This plays a big part in the gender of the hatchling. To ensure a 50:50 ratio of males to females, the eggs need to be kept at 29 degrees C exactly.
There are also a few other problems with hatcheries, but these are the main issues.
Turtle hatchery Sri Lanka; The good side
Having said all of the above, I do think it’s important to also mention the good side of these sanctuaries. Many of the turtle hatcheries have very good intentions and their hearts are in the right place.
Worldwide, six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as endangered or threatened. The fact is, these creatures face a host of life and death obstacles to their survival by both natural and human-caused threats. Human threats include hunting – they’re a source of food and are used to make jewellery and other luxury items – and they also get accidentally captured in fisheries. But most concerning is PLASTIC. Over one million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. Over 80% of this plastic is from land. It’s so important that we all fight the battle against plastic together – to save the sea life. But that’s a topic for a different day.
In Sri Lanka particularly, sea turtles are under threat because of human activity. They have been for decades. The Kosgoda turtle hatchery that we visited was started almost 40 years ago as a conservation effort to try and address this crisis.
Aside from their risks in the ocean, some locals in Sri Lanka have a tradition of collecting the turtle eggs to eat and even hunt the animals for food or to sell. It’s important to note that these kinds of traditions are slowly changing because of projects like this. These establishments help to educate locals and tourists and their efforts are proving to be very effective.
They also obviously have the intention of protecting sea turtle eggs and increasing hatching rates. This is because of the threats that endanger the eggs in their original nesting locations. The hope is to save the sea turtle species.
Knowing what I know now I don’t think I would ever visit a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka again. In fact, I would think twice before visiting any sanctuary anywhere. Unfortunately, because of how “popular” it’s becoming to visit sanctuaries and rescue centers, this has opened up opportunities to exploit animals in the name of business. Innocent tourists believe that they are supporting a good cause, but sometimes it’s quite the opposite. If I had done my research prior, I probably wouldn’t have ended up at one of the turtle hatchery Sri Lanka establishments.
But, I don’t want to take anything away from the good that is being done by plenty of sanctuaries all over the world. It is absolutely necessary for the rehabilitation, conservation and education of many species. There are a lot of incredible sanctuaries out there who are doing wonderful work. I just think that it’s important to do your research beforehand and then make a decision based on whether you feel the organization is working in the best interest of the animal. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.
Tip: Check out all the amazing things to do in Unawatuna
Sri Lanka Visa Requirements
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