[Source: Daily News: Features. Friday 17, April 1998]
A growing interest is manifest in the field of turtles everywhere in the world. While an infinitesimal minority of carnivorous being are bent on destroying these disappearing breed of marine turtles for their flesh and shell, a preponderant majority of peace in many countries are keen to protest the turtle and provide them sanctuaries.
Marine turtles were roaming the oceans for about 190 million years. Among the many different variety of this species only eight of these ancient reptiles are found living today.
Of the eight Sri Lanka is famous for five kinds of turtles who regularly visit the sandy beaches to nest in Sri Lanka's South Western and South Eastern beaches from Induruwa to Yala and Kandakuliya in the Puttalam district.
Along the South Western coast turtles rest in Induruwa, Kosgoda, Akurala, Mavela, Rekava and Kahanda Modera. In the South Eastern beach from Usangoda, Ambalantota, Bundala upto Yala the turtles are found.
Mr. Berty Jayasekera, Director Wild Life Conservation Department said:
"The following five different species visit Sri Lanka beaches to nest.
- Induruwa: Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle and Leatherback Turtle;
- Kosgoda: Loger head Turtle, Hawlesbill Turtle and the three species found in Induruwa;
- Akurala: Green Turtle;
- Mavela: Green Turtle and Leatherback Turtle;
- Kahandamodara: Unknown species of Turtles visit the area.
- Usangoda: Leatherback Turtle.
- Ambalantota: Green Turtle and Leatherback Turtle;
- Bundala: Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle, Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle;
- Yala: Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle and Olive Ridley Turtle.
- Kandakuliya: In this area Jayasekera said thousands of Olive Ridley Turtles are found every year. So far no nesting has been found.
Regrettably the large number of visiting turtles are caught by local fishermen for flesh and shells which provide the folks a lucrative market.
Mr. Jayasekera said all turtles and their products are fully protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Anyone found guilty of committing this offence will find him in jail and will be liable for a fine too.
Under International Law too sea turtles are protected. Sri Lanka has barred international trade in sea turtle products, he added.
Giving some facts on turtles, Jayasekera said: "Turtles have lungs and must come to surface to breathe every thirty minutes. When they are asleep their bodies do not need as much oxygen and they are therefore able to spend the entire night underwater.
"Turtles are known to migrate over distances. A Leatherback turtle tagged in French Guiana in South America was recovered in Ghana some 3800 miles away.
"Marine turtles are believed to reach sexual maturity at thirty years and live to over eighty years old.
"Adult females are believed to return to the beach on which they hatched to lay their eggs. Sea turtles prefer quiet, dark, undisturbed where they will be less vulnerable to predators.
"Between 80 and 120 eggs are laid in each nest. The eggs are white and about the same size and shape as a table tennis ball. A single female may nest up to five times in a season.
"The temperature of the nest during incubation determines the sex of the hatchings. When they hatch the young turtles make their way straight to sea and swim constantly for up to 2 days.
This is known as the "juvenile frenzy" and allows the hatchings to escape the predator rich in shore waters. Every 1000 eggs laid are believed to yield only one mature adult sea turtle.".
Those who desire seeing turtles visiting the South Western and South Eastern coastal villages can do so in the nights from a distance with the aid of binoculars. Nesting turtles should not be disturbed and light disturbances should be minimised at night.
The Wild Life Department has launched a public awareness programme on the biology and conservation value of marine turtles to save the reptile from total disappearance. (Nemasiri Mutukumara)