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 Post subject: Helping turtles - more focused on tourists than turtles
 Post Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:35 am 
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Helping turtles - more focused on tourists than turtles

Launching baby turtles into the waves for a "donation" of a few hundred rupees is big business in Sri Lanka. Many in the scientific community question the benefits of hatcheries because it might upset the ecological balance. There are fears that centres have become more focused on tourists rather than turtles.

By Louise Gray

Things do not look good for Jonah. The poor little guy had a good start in life. His mother, a green turtle, managed to lug her 250kg body up the beach, carefully dig a whole and lay her 100 or so eggs one beautiful sunset. The next morning a passing fisherman found the nest and took them to a turtle conservation centre . A few years ago the hatch would have been taken to the market to sell for turtle egg omelette or dug up by hungry stray dogs.

Fortunately nowadays there is a thriving trade in saving turtles thanks to the efforts of the environmental movement and the winning combination of awfully cute turtles and very soppy tourists. On the coast of Sri Lanka there are five species of turtles: Green Turtles, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and the giant 1.7m Leatherback. All are endangered.

Jonah hatched after about two months in a basic incubator and swam around in a tank getting his photo taken by tourists and generally getting used to a life of celebrity. Eventually when he was just a few inches long he was picked up, cooed over, popped in a bucket and taken to the nearest beach at nightfall. Along with 20 or so of his brothers and sisters he was deposited on the sand around 3m from the tide line and granted freedom. Except poor Jonah just didn't get it. The little turtle kept crawling in the wrong direction. I gently turned him around a few times but he seemed to have developed a fear of water.

All his fellow inmates had paddled into the Indian Ocean before Jonah finally got the message and was washed out on a passing wave. I can't help a motherly feeling towards the turtles I "launched" so to speak. Jonah has my blessing and I hope he makes it, but the prognosis is not good. Although the litter were released at night to foil any passing birds only one out of 1,000 survive. Jonah, with his appalling sense of direction and aversion to water, appears to have less chance than most.

Launching baby turtles into the waves for a "donation" of a few hundred rupees is big business in Sri Lanka. It is not surprising as it gives one a sense of well being releasing the little reptiles to freedom, although many in the scientific community question the benefits of hatcheries because it might upset the ecological balance. There are fears that centres have become more focused on tourists rather than turtles. Conservationists want stricter government regulations to ensure the babies are not kept in small tanks, are released as soon as possible after hatching to ensure they have enough energy to swim to deep water and are not released too close to the lights of resorts.

The line of defence is that the business not only boosts the turtle population but is helping the tourist industry to recover after the tsunami. Although volunteers from Britain came to help re-build some of the centres there is still evidence of damage. I am told the reason some of the older turtles, including a rare albino, are kept in such small tanks is because it has been impossible to re-build larger tanks after the tsunami. The tidal wave badly affected this stretch of coast just south of Bentota and while it may seem crass to jump from saving turtles to helping people, I can only write about what I experience.


Back in Colombo I went to a see a series of plays about a side to the tsunami that is rarely discussed in public, that is the affect it had on women. The plays were conceived by the Lanka Children's and Youth Theatre Foundation with the Geneva-based Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions or COHRE ( www.cohre.org ). This not-for-profit organisation protects people all around the world displaced by natural disasters, war, unscrupulous companies or their own governments.

Although in Sri Lanka the majority of people have been re-housed since the tsunami that still leaves around 10,000 effectively homeless. There are also ongoing problems over how the new housing was allocated. Women in particular got a raw deal because of discriminatory practices. The plays dealt with issues like domestic violence, where women were forced to remain with an abusive husband because new houses were automatically given to the men.

In Eastern Sri Lanka, where the house is passed from mother to daughter in accordance with Muslim tradition, many women lost their right to own a home for the first time in generations. The young cast gave a very affecting performance and brought home how much the country has yet to recover from such a terrible natural disaster. It will certainly take more than the physical act of re-building the houses.

What does this all have to do with trees? Well, re-planting of trees along the coast not only helps to protect against erosion and possibly another tsunami but shields animals from the growing resorts. The light on beaches cause disturbance to turtles laying eggs and to hatchlings going out to sea.

In fact to be fair to Jonah the distant lights of Bentota may have been what was confusing him - unless he just wanted to go for a cocktail at one of the five star hotels. Ruk Rakaganno ( rukrakaganno.sacredcat.org ) is to plant 10,000 coastal plants known as pandanus, a type of thorny shrub with a rooting system that binds sand, as part of a two year coastal replanting project.

Meanwhile I am concentrating on getting the Dambulla Arboretum into guidebooks. Sustainability is the holy grail for volunteers and this is a small way I can help Ruk Raks well into the future if the arboretum features in new editions. However it is more difficult than I expected.

So far I have managed to plug the destination on the Lonely Planet Blue List but these guidebooks get an awful lot of recommendations and it will be interesting to see how easy it is to get through the vetting process.

I know I said last week I would be writing about the importance of trees and plants to Ayurvedic and Western medicine but I am fast learning in Sri Lanka things don't always work out how you think. Instead I am beginning research into reforestation in order to write an article for Sinhala New Year urging people to plant trees. I have a lot of work to do.

Tree huggers bombard me with figures but in a foreign country it is difficult to verify these statistics and speak to scientific "talking heads " about the importance of tackling climate change. The fact is I'm a bit distracted. I keep on thinking about Jonah and wondering how he's getting on out there alone in the big wide ocean….


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 Post subject: Turtles breeding centers are to be prohibited
 Post Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:39 am 
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Turtles breeding centers are to be prohibited in Sri Lanka

Monday, January 26, 2009
@ ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.


Jan 26, Colombo: Sri Lanka government has decided to prohibit the turtle breeding centers located along the Southern coast. W.A.D.A Wijesuriya, Director General of the Wild Life department said that they have taken this decision to protect the turtles that are facing a certain threat of disappearing from the earth.

He said the Wild Life Department is to begin raiding the turtle breeding centers without prior notice from 1st of February. According to the Director General keeping the turtles and their eggs are totally prohibited by the law. There are few turtle breeding centers along Southern coastal line in Sri Lanka which are famous among the tourists.


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