Turtle hatcheries are good for the environment, save lives, and incredibly fun. There are a few lovely ones down the coast, especially in and around the Kosgoda area. We visited the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project (our favourite) this weekend. They have a great sustainability model and a very friendly owner, Dudley. The place is run by the locals, with international volunteers helping out throughout the year.
A hatchling summons Cthuhlu
The experience for tourists (regardless of nationality) is just brilliant. If you swing by during the day you’ll get to see all the adorable little hatchlings or the older and wiser turtles doing their thing in the tanks. But the real fun is being part of the release! It goes down almost everyday around sunset. The staff will pick out the ones fit for release, put them in little buckets and hand them to you.
You then trek a couple of meters down to the beach, where Dudley’s wife draws a starting line in the sand which you’re not allowed to cross. One by one, the turtles are released. It is genuinely one of the coolest experiences to watch them eagerly scuttle down the sand and slide into the sea. We were extra lucky because we were just in time to see a hatching, but this doesn’t always happen at the same time everyday.
The KSTCP has about 10 tanks filled with turtles, either new hatchlings waiting their turn to be released or older ones who can't make it in the big bad sea themselves and have been rescued. According to the site,
“Only a few hatchlings from each batch will ever make it to adulthood. Therefore every nest-ground, every egg, every hatchling and every turtle is crucial to the survival of the species. Unfortunately, sea turtles face many dangers.
The project's work relies on fundraising and grants. Every year, the project helps clear and maintain the local beach, protecting vital nesting-grounds (particularly important after the devastation of the Tsunami) and releases thousands of hatchlings”.
The hatchery project collects and rescues eggs so they can hatch safely away from predators. A certain percentage is also kept back for a short period for ‘headstarting’. The program is intended to maximize the number of hatchlings reaching the sea and surviving the critical stages of their life (the first few days). According to Dudley, the hatchery releases thousands of turtles a year!
The hatchery is close to a lot of touristy areas in Galle and the surrounding areas, so try and visit because it’s absolutely worth the stop. You may feel tempted to steal a tiny turtle but this is both wrong and illegal, so probably best to avoid it.
Entrance is on admission, at Rs. 500. Call ahead to make sure it's a release day.
Try to be there just before 6. You'll get to experience a turtle release, and a hatching if you're lucky.