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 Post subject: Marine Turtles of Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 02, 2005 4:20 pm 
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Marine Turtles of Sri Lanka

The island of Sri Lanka at the southern point of the Indian Subcontinent is strategically located midway between the eastern coast of Africa Madagascar and the Pacific Ocean.

Seasonal migration of marine turtles in the Atlantic and the Indian oceans has occurred since time immemorial and it is authentically recorded that these turtles depend on the sandy beaches of Spain, South America, Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka for nesting. With advent of time, depletion of available nesting grounds and the global expansion of industrialized fishing practices have become a major challenges to the survival of these pre-historic reptiles. Global urbanization and development of tourist resort along the coastal beaches of tropical countries has eroded into the nesting grounds of these turtles, aggravating the chances of survival of these species.

The Sri Lankan Scenario
Statutory Protection


The beaches of Sri Lanka are the nesting grounds for five species of marine turtles. They are the Green turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill the Loggerhead and the Olive Ridley. All 5 species have been recorded to nest along specific areas of Sri Lanka’s coast (Figure 1). Studies have indicated that beaches can be categorized in accordance with visitation by different species of turtles. For example:

Species Nesting beach

01 Leatherback - Walawe Modara, Godawaya
02 Hawksbill - Bentota
03 Green Turtle - Rekawa, Kosgoda
04 Loggerhead - Welipatanwala
05 Olive Ridley - Every where

The Sri Lanka government, recognized the threat to the survival of these species from loss of their nesting habitat. The early 1980’s saw the government implementing laws to declare them as protected by the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance. It is an offence to trap, kill, or devour any of these species or even parts thereof. Thus even the eggs of these reptiles are protected and a lucrative cottage industry that prevailed in this country, from using turtle shells, (particularly of the Leatherback) has ground to a halt.

While the government for its part produced legislation to protect these threatened species of animals it remained the prerogative of NGO’s, concerned institutions and interested individuals to devise practical measures to conserve these animals who come ashore on the beaches of Sri Lanka to lay their eggs.

Adversaries

Several adverse factors contribute to these animals being threatened of their survival.

The deep-sea-going fishing trawlers find these animals inadvertently trapped in their nets. They are brought ashore along with the rest of the catch and are slaughtered and the flesh marketed illicitly because the statute pertaining to its protection is given a low priority by the enforcing authorities. Although turtle flesh is not considered a delicacy in Sri Lanka there are specific localities, particularly along the western coast, where turtle flesh is readily marketable. Thus the large numbers of turtles inadvertently caught in fishing nets are ultimately killed.

Eggs unearthed from their nests are more vulnerable and find a more ready and safer market throughout the coastal beaches. The adverse impact of destroying a nest which generally contains over 100 eggs would be a major contributor to the threat to the survival of these species as eggs are laid only on specific beaches and this habitat too is fast being destroyed or not available for this natural phenomenon. Annually, 67% of eggs in the Kosgoda beach is eaten or sold for hotels by the locals.

The statutory enactment have made a significant impact to the slaughter of egg laying female turtles, who have to come ashore. They were also subject to ready slaughter prior to the enactment of the protective legislation, but since such flesh is not relished in all parts of the island where these turtles nest, there has been a significant fall in the numbers of egg-laying turtles being killed in this manner.

Conservation measures

Since legal action, against offenders, was not readily forthcoming conservation measures were directed mainly towards protecting the nests of eggs that are laid on the beaches.

Beaches which are nesting grounds are already well identified and documented. This being so, they are most vulnerable to human as well as other faunal predators. A predator which gains access to a nest hardly ever spares any of the eggs in the nest although some nests (Leatherbacks) may have over 120 eggs in each nest.

Objectives:

To protect all five species of turtles visiting the existing beaches
To develop an appropriate institutional arrangement for effective resource protection and management
To provide opportunities for conservation-compatible tourism, nature interpretation and conservation education (promote ecotoursim based on turtles)
To reduce the dependencies of the adjoining local communities on turtles
To facilitate research, monitoring and training in turtle conservation and community participation
To promote ex-situ conservation for species which are critically endangered and with limited visitation.

Methodology/Strategies

In-situ Conservation

It is said that if we can protect and manage 3 km of beach in Rekawa and Kosgoda we may conserving 90% of the turtle population visiting Sri Lanka. We need to provide adequate protection and develop appropriate strategies to protect and manage 2.5 km in Rekawa and 0.5 km of the Kosgoda beach.

Ex-situ conservation

This was a most popular method and was introduced in the South eastern sector this island by an NGO way back in the 1980 s.

Ex- situ conservation programs are proposed for conservation of species of Hawksbill, Leather back and Loggerhead in the beaches of Walawe Modara and Godawaya.

Existing hatcheries along the southern coastal line have to be streamlined by the Dept. of Wildlife Conservation for ex-situ conservation of Hawksbill and Loggerhead species giving them provision through existing legislation. There are 18 hatcheries found along the southern coastal line, of them 09 hatcheries are found in the district of Galle, and one is found in the district of Hambantota (i.e. Darwin's Cabana).

Two model hatcheries have to be established by the DWLC at two locations of Bentota and Welipatanwala with the assistance of Natural Aquatic Resources Agency (NARA). Bentota hatchery is for conservation of Hawksbill Turtle and Welipatanwala hatchery is for Loggerhead At the moment egg collectors could be employed in the Bentota hatchery.

Tourism and turtle conservation

Sri Lanka's rich biodiversity acts as the key element in attracting both foreign and local visitors. If elephant are considered as the major attraction birds and turtles come next.

It is important to have a proper tourism not allowed interpretation plan, so that the visitors can have a wilderness experience and are made aware of the need and importance of preserving turtles and their nests and nesting grounds. In addition community involvement will assist in sustaining the programme as the benefit of conservation can be accrued by the local. It is proposed that youths involved in illegal activities can be given employment in conserving the turtles.

Rekawa-Former employees of Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) will be employed as volunteer guides. Volunteer guides will work as guides and nest protectors of Rekawa beach. Tourism facilities i.e. interpretation centers, toilet facilities will be established by the DWLC.

Bundala- The youths of adjoining villages have been employed as guides and they will work as guides and nest protectors. Tourism facilities i.e. interpretation centers, toilet facilities will be established by the DWLC allowing night tourism in the Bundala National Park.

Welipatanwala- This area has a high tourism potential. The ancient famous comedian Andare's Palace and geological site are found in addition to turtles and turtle nesting. The locally employed youths could be employed as volunteer guides/interpreters.

Constraints

The relevant regulations with respect to Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance has to be revised allowing night tourism based on turtles inside and outside the protected areas.
Land acquisition has be done for turtle conservation i.e. establishment of hatcheries, tourism facilities, nesting programs
Sufficient funds should be available for implementation of proposed program
.


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