Sea turtles are among the oldest animals on earth, but they are under threat from poachers who attack their nests and steal the eggs. In Sri Lanka, a unique initiative is turning some of these nest raiders into conservationists.
Sea turtles are among the oldest animals on earth and all seven species are endangered. One of the threats that they are up against are poachers who attack their nests and steal the eggs. But in Sri Lanka, a unique initiative is turning some of these nest raiders into conservationists
Rekawa, a virgin tropical beach in the island nation of Sri Lanka, on the Indian ocean. Here, these men are on a mission to protect one of their country's most precious resources: the homely marine turtles. The enemy? Poachers who raid the beach nests where the turtles lay their eggs, as this former poacher demonstrates. Turtle eggs are desired because of their high protein value and exquisite taste. But once the eggs are stolen, the survival of turtles is threatened.
I have children to feed. I don't have any other job to do, so I used to collect turtle eggs to survive.
Sea turtles are marine reptiles that have existed in our oceans for over 100 million years, surviving the rise and fall of dinosaurs. The only time marine turtles leave the ocean is when the females come ashore to nest, often thousands of miles away from their usual habitats. In order to avoid predators, they come to deserted beaches at night. First, they dig a pit, a difficult task for a big creature that only has flaps as tools. In a trancelike state, they lay their eggs. The laying of the eggs is the moment when the turtles are most vulnerable. It is precisely then that the poachers appear, stealing the eggs as they're being laid. Should the turtle be lucky and not encounter any poacher, it covers the eggs and conceals the pit. Then, exhausted, it slowly crawls back to the ocean. Thushan Kapurusinghe is a wildlife conservationist.
When we first arrived here in 1993, what we saw that they were collecting all eggs laid by sea turtles here and they didn't allow any hatchlings to emerge and survive.
Once the eggs are laid, it will take two months for them to hatch. Then, the baby turtles will make their way back to the ocean. Being sensitive to the earth's magnetic field, they retain their birth coordinates and will return to this very same beach many years later to lay their eggs. The period between nesting and hatching is a dangerous one, because they are exposed to predators, especially humans. The sale of turtle eggs is illegal in Sri Lanka, but economic necessity often prevails. For a jobless family, egg poaching can bring enough cash for them to survive.
I used to sell the eggs and make a profit of 300 to 400 rupees and that's how I lived.
To protect the turtles, Thushan, supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, established a Turtle Conservation Project.
We decided to employ these egg collectors as nest protectors. So now you can see now the turtles are protected on the beach and also at the same time people have an alternative livelihood.
In addition to patrolling the beach, the nest protectors catalog and look after the nests. They also keep statistics and logs on nesting and hatching patterns. In order to reduce poaching, alternative income generating activities, like this community project, are needed. Women are being trained to produce beautiful batiks based on colourful turtle motifs. Sewing and computer literacy classes are also underway. Eco-tourism also provides additional income for the community. Foreigners come from four continents to marvel at the fascinating spectacle of the turtles nesting. The Rekawa beach has been officially declared a wildlife sanctuary, the first one in Sri Lanka, a major victory for conservationists. Ranjit Vidnapathirana is a Wildlife Guard.
The reason for declaring Rekawa beach a sanctuary is to provide the legal protection for the sea turtles and other species living here.
As a result of the conservation efforts, the extinction trend has been reversed and now the turtle population is being restored. However, protecting the turtles is a long-term effort that will take generations to succeed. Conservationists say the first step is to change the local mentality and increase their ecological awareness.
If we continue collecting turtle eggs there won't be any turtles left. Then our children won't be able to see a turtle.
Continuing his ecological crusade, Thushan takes the local kids to the beach to teach them about the turtles. Children gather in groups to create turtle sculptures in the sand. Art not only mirrors life but also becomes an awareness tool, so when the turtles return at night they may have a greater chance to complete their age-old nature cycle.