Along Sri Lanka’s south coast, one is likely to come across various small holdings advertising turtle hatcheries, and some may even get the chance to visit the beaches of Rekawa late at night and observe the mother turtles laying their eggs.
The sea turtle night watch (TCP) initiative is lawfully allowed to operate on Rekawa Beach, and was started with the hope of protecting the areas sea turtles whilst allowing tourists the opportunity to observe this magical behaviour (in season Feb-July). Workers from the project derive income from leading visitors to the nesting sites and providing information about the animals before them, with much of the income going back into protecting the nests from predators and poachers.
This is a project that we have supported in the past, always keen to support responsible small NGO’s in wildlife conservation. However, recently we have been advised by trusted suppliers in the region, that the experience is becoming a negative one, with overcrowding around females trying to lay their eggs, a lack of proper training for operatives and poor control of visitors. As any female will know, you don’t want a load of strange people crowding around you, pointing a bright torch in your face and generally getting in your way when you are trying to give birth to hundreds of eggs! Bright clothing, camera flashes, torches, over-close proximity to the turtles (including touching!), and excessive noise (anything above a very light whisper) disturbs these poor girls when trying to lay – a situation which could very well change their behaviour and prevent them returning to Rekawa Beach.
As this negative behaviour seems to be increasing at Rekawa, it is no longer an activity that we feel able to support until the operation has stricter controls on guests and better training for guides. We need to know that the conservation and welfare of the turtles comes above commercial interest, because at the end of the day, if the turtles are driven away by irresponsible practices, there will no longer be any commercial interest to have anyway!
Of course we understand that this experience can be an amazing one if carried out in the right way, and if you would still like to go on a turtle watching safari, we can’t stop you. We just ask that you please take heed of the above notes and remain a polite, quiet distance from the old girls, avoid wearing cologne or perfume, and avoid using torches or camera flashes. Please also ensure that you do not allow your guide to cajole you into disturbing the turtle – he will merely be trying to please you, so let him know that you are happy watching her lay her eggs in peace!