Sea turtles have roamed oceans for 190 million years. They’ve outlived dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and millions of other species that have sadly faded from existence. Mainly because of us lot.
Eight species of sea turtle remain today and five of them love to hang around the Sri Lanka coastline and nest. So don’t be surprised if one pops up next to you while you’re playing in the huge Indian Ocean waves. I most certainly was!
I knew that they were residents here and had been reading about them before the trip. Did I mention my mild obsession for non-humans? I was dying to learn more about them and do something to help if I could.
There are a lot of these places dotted around the island but after doing lots of research and learning the story behind the Sea Turtle hatchery in Hikkaduwa, we could only really go to this one.
Founded by a local man named Ariyapala who passed away in the same year that it opened, it was then taken over by his daughter. On 26th December 2004 the tsunami took her life along with tens of thousands of others and also completely destroyed the rescue centre.
After losing his entire family that day, it was a couple of years before the now owner managed to fully restore the hatchery that his Father had worked so hard to build.
It reopened in 2006.
And has been a safe haven for turtles old and new, ever since.
This little cutie was only born the night before but he couldn’t half swim!
I was extremely tempted to pop him in to my pocket and take him globe trotting.
Sadly, that wasn’t an option.
We were asked to wash our hands of any creams or lotions before we entered and then given a tour by the owner who introduced all of the turtles that were living there.
The toddlers who zoom around like tiny turtle tuk-tuks, taking no prisoners in their need for speed. There is absolutely no time for floating in the baby pool.
And those who are yet to make an entrance…
Turtle egg nests are kept in this sun and sand filled incubator until they are ready to start swimming.
They are labelled by their species as they all take different times to hatch and at varying temperatures.
Oh yes, they are a demanding bunch. The females need to be kept warmer than the males do and so are positioned in the sun to give them more heat.
I was shocked to hear that only 1 out of every 100 hatchlings will make it to adulthood.
If they are left to hatch on the beach they will likely end up as bird food or dug up and taken by poachers along with their Mother if she is there and sold as food or used to make ornaments. So say no to tortoiseshell people!
That is why foundations like this are so important. The sanctuary empties nests all along the coast and gives the eggs a safe place to hatch. Most of them are then kept for one week and released into the big wide waterworld.
It’s hard to believe that something so tiny could survive alone in the wild.
But they do. If they can avoid sharks and ship propellers, they have been known to live for more than a century.
Some of them are kept for six months which gives them a far better chance of reaching adulthood. But also to enable the centre to educate the local children and anyone who will listen, of the heritage and significance of these captivating prehistoric creatures.
One of the longer standing residents is Tom. Who likes shell tickles and medium sized jellyfish.
He was caught in a fishing net six months ago and lost one of his fins. Nimal is teaching him to dive again by increasing the amount of water in his tank each day by an inch and holding food at the bottom to encourage him to swim down for it.
Because of the amazing rehabilitation he is being given, Tom will go back to the ocean in six months fully recovered and even more special than he was before.
If you ever visit Sri Lanka, be sure to take some time to go here and make a donation.
It’s really so heartwarming to see the love and care being taken of these magical turtles.
I can’t wait for my next ocean encounter.