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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

Turtle Conservation in Sri Lanka

By Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne

Our good friend Dr. Kingsley Mariadasan was an 8 year old boy when his father found work in Europe in the 1970s. He had his education there and started visiting Sri Lanka as an adult - first as a volunteer doctor during the tsunami days and subsequently he keeps coming - a homing pigeon.

The end of the war has made his visits more frequent and he was once again in Sri Lanka recently. Kingsley was my physician when I lived in Norway and we are great friends. When my sister Menaca visited me in Oslo, Kingsley drove us to Sweden.

When he last visited Sri Lanka, I thought this was my turn to take him on a drive and show him, ‘The first Sri Lankan Expressway’ and the Southern Province of Sri Lanka. That was on the May Day 2013.

We started at 7 in the morning, entered the Southern Expressway at Kottawa. Contrary to the popular belief that Sri Lankans generally drive chaotically and dangerously, but I noticed that no one exceeded 100 kmph speed limit and the flow of the vehicles were very orderly. There were quite a few slow guys too! Going as slow as 60 kmph, gee vizz!. I wondered whether there should be a minimum speed limit on the Expressway!

On the way, buses we passed coming from the opposite direction, were full of people going to Colombo for the May day rallies. One could identify them from the decorations and the color of polythene frills on the buses, the political affiliation of those who were in them.

They were in (literary) on 'High Spirits' already. Compared to the E 6 Highway that runs between Swedish border and Oslo Norway, where Kingsley drove us when Menaca and I were there, this was much more interesting due to the 'Rally' crowd going the opposite way! Where in Europe can you find such passion for Politics? (When we returned back to Colombo, we met the crowd in Borella, but that was another story!)

Having exited Expressway at Galle, driving on the coastline was a very pleasant experience. The Indian Ocean was picturesque, gives no indication that it was this very ocean that rolled into land during the tsunami and virtually destroyed the Southern coast. Driving on this bit, as the city shops began, we stopped at Vasana Bakery to taste Marshmallows. (Those who haven't tasted them do not know what they are missing.)

Inside the Galle Fort awaits many stylish cafes (some of which reminded those of Paris). One drawback was that the museum was closed due to May day.

We walked on the ramparts evading the vendors who tried to sell us their wares.

One guy in fact tried to entice us with the prospects of scuba diving, showing us VOC coins he had retrieved from a shipwreck. He had the diving gear that could be taken on rent. It would have been a good idea, had we been avid swimmers who had a bit more time on our hands.

You can drive passing the world famous Sanath Jayasuriya Cricket Stadium which we only see on television! Closer to a cricket match, single ticket was sold for over US $ 100 in the black-market, but one can also stand on the Fort and see the match for free, we figured.

We proceeded to the Light House Hotel, a must see to a person who like modern Sri Lankan architecture. This is a building that stands as a poetic statement, designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect Late Geoffery Bawa.

The next stop, Kosgama Turtle hatchery. If Light House Hotel was lunch, this was the dessert!

The Earth is home to all living beings of which some are endangered mainly due to adverse human intervention! About 7 turtle varieties are listed in the IUCN endangered list and by law are protected animals. The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature ) is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species.

Red List of Threatened Species (also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data List), founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

Out of the 7 turtle species listed in the list, five! Yes FIVE! were at the hatchery on that day, Green Turtle Chelonia mydas (endangered) , Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) (endangered) Hawksbill ( Eretmochelys imbricate) (Critically endangered)Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) (Critically endangered) and Olive Ridley ( Lepidochelys olivacea). (vulnerable) are being hatched from turtle eggs and are released to the Indian Ocean as 3 day old baby turtles.

For the purpose of interest the 7 turtles that are in the IUCN list are as follows :

1. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta): Endangered

2. Green turtle (Chelonia mydas: Endangered

3. Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea): Critically Endangered

4. Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata): Critically Endangered

5. Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii): Critically Endangered

6. Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea): Vulnerable

7. Flatback (Natator depressus): Data Deficient )

Most people are afraid of reptiles. But do you know that turtles are also reptiles? .

There are two orders of Turtles - one called Chelonii and the other Testudines the difference is characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell enveloped from their ribs and acting as a shield.

The order Chelonii or Testudines includes both extant (living) and already extinct species. The earliest known turtles date from 220 million years ago, therefore turtles are one of the oldest reptile groups in the world and more ancient group than of any living lizards, snakes or crocodiles of today.

Like all other extant reptiles, turtles are ectotherms—their internal temperature varies according to the ambient environment, commonly called cold-blooded. However, because of their high metabolic rate, leather-back sea turtles have a body temperature that is noticeably higher than that of the surrounding water. Like other amniotes (reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals), they breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water. The largest turtles are aquatic.

Sri Lanka's Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Research Centre was founded in 1978 and has been in operation for the last 34 years. The current Manager is Mr. K. Chandrasiri Abrew and it was his father who was the previous Manager.

Our guide was John. The founders of this Hatchery were Late Dr. Wickramasinghe who was a medical doctor and a research scientist attached to the Medical Research Institute of Sri Lanka and Dr. Upendra Silva. This Hatchery is the oldest and the biggest turtle conservation project in Sri Lanka. It finds its funding through donations and by the sales of entrance tickets to the hatchery to those who are interested in seeing the turtle hatchery.

Private Turtle hatcheries like this one makes its' contribution to the world by hatching eggs in captivity, keeping the babies for 3 days until they are strong enough to survive in the ocean and releasing them to the sea.

The hatchery also treats sick and injured turtles and keeps them until they are strong enough to survive in the sea. The hatchery buys turtle eggs from fishermen at the rate of Sri Lanka Rupees 10/- per egg and buries it in sand until they hatch.

Rare Albino turtles and sick turtles are kept at the Hatchery as they are vulnerable and will not survive in the wild.

There are also dead turtles, preserved in formalin for the purpose of showing them to the public.

In a bottle, lays dead - such a turtles which died when a school child, on the sly gave it a chewing gum.

Turtles are marine animals and cannot digest such things, but out of curiosity, may bite and swallow resulting in death. One of the greatest contributors to declining turtle population is pollution and the other is poaching.

However, this hatchery alone so far has released 3.5 million baby turtles to the Indian Ocean.

- Asian Tribune -

The big albino turtle next to one day old baby turtles in tanks
Writer Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne
 Map og Sri Lanka  where turtles are reported to be laying eggs
 Our guide  John explaining  us about turtles
The baby turtles that were hatched the night before
 Dr. Kingsley Mariadasan holding a grown turtle.  The turtle is blind and cannot be released to the sea as it will not survive in the wild.  He is very tame and likes humans who have looked after him
diconary view
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