Pitch in for the turtles | Daily News

Pitch in for the turtles

The majestic sea turtle is a national gem. The five species found in Sri Lanka, the green sea turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, the olive ridley sea turtle, the loggerhead sea turtle, and the hawksbill sea turtle frequent southern beaches and are major tourist draws.

These animals, which spend most of their lives in water, come to shore to lay their eggs. Their local nesting areas stretch from Mount Lavinia, down the west coast, across the south coast, and up to Arugam Bay on the East coast.

Sea turtles are globally threatened, and many species of the marine beasts are facing extinction. Though the turtles’ natural habitat spans all three oceans, the animals’ populations have collapsed in recent years due to numerous factors.

Natural causes are not thought to be contributing to their drop in numbers; large turtles have very few predators, and only sharks, large fish, crocodiles, killer whales, and sometimes octopi will attack an adult. Many species of fish and crabs, however, prey upon young turtles.

The key players in the decline of the sea turtle population are, as usual when discussing animal population destructions, human beings.

Many people throughout the world hunt adult turtles for their meat and fat. Nesting green turtle females, which are the most common species in Sri Lanka, are often killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy throughout swaths of Asia. Turtle soup continues to be all too common across the continent.

Un-hatched turtle eggs are widely considered tasty treats and, to some populations, aphrodisiacs. People take hundreds of thousands of eggs are from beaches each year.

Unintentional harm

Furthermore, some hunt turtles for their shells. The Hawksbill turtle, which is critically endangered, was the main source of tortoiseshell material until laws eliminated the trade. But people still poach these turtles and sell the shells.

However, the unintentional harm that people inflict on sea turtles might be even more damaging. Countless animals are entangled and perish in fishing nets each year. Boats also strike many as they swim near the surface.

Pollution, both physical and chemical, also harms turtles. A major factor in turtle deaths is the explosion of plastic in the oceans. Adults often eat jellyfish, and they often mistake plastic bags for prey. Man-made chemicals also affect the turtles, causing fertility issues and even tumors.

But central to the turtles’ decline is habitat and nesting site destruction, two issues that are becoming more severe in Sri Lanka as the country develops. As once-secluded beaches host more visitors and resorts encroach on their nesting areas, turtles have little recourse to reproduce in other areas.

In order for the turtles to survive in Sri Lanka despite the aforementioned challenges, stakeholders must launch numerous wide-ranging conservation projects. The Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort launched one such project on Saturday, May 6th in conjunction with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The resort, which opened in late 2015, sits on a beautiful, isolated stretch of Sri Lanka’s southern coast that is a prime nesting zone for sea turtles. After realizing that turtles were laying eggs on the beach, representatives from the resort reached out to IUCN to conduct a project that would help protect and conserve the marine animals.

Main objectives

The project, which will focus on conservation efforts both at the resort and extending over 100 kilometers of surrounding coastline, has five main objectives: conservation, raising awareness, provide a better habitat for turtles, build staff capacity, and raise funds for further turtle protection and management efforts.

With regard to conducting in-situ conservation of turtles, the Anantara-IUCN project will work to ensure that the turtles are supported and secure while nesting.

“We will identify the relevant stakeholders, whether government agencies, staff, or local community actors, and work with them to do what is necessary to ensure that these turtles can complete their nesting without being disturbed,” said Dr. Devaka Weerakoon, Professor in Zoology at Faculty of Science, University of Colombo and IUCN Commission Member.

The resort and NGO will also conduct an awareness workshop on how to properly record turtle nesting events.

Furthermore, the partners will conduct four separate turtle nesting site surveys, which will take place over 32 field days, from Tangalle to Yala National Park from August to December 2017.

“It is important to survey the nesting sites periodically because the coastal area is changing rapidly. We want to measure the increases or decreases in nesting sites based on previous IUCN surveys so that we can prepare a turtle nest site management plan,” said Weerakoon.

This first portion of the conservation plan, which extends well past the hotel’s limits, will also see the establishment of a database of turtle nesting site information.

The second aspect of the master plan is to raise awareness on turtle conservation and to enhance the capacity of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) to conduct conservation efforts on its own.

“We need to create awareness among the guests about the project, so there will be activities that educate guests about the turtles’ lifestyles and the problems they face,” Weerakoon said.

To that end, Anantara will establish a media wall at the resort that will display information and short documentaries on the turtles. A similar exhibition is planned for the proposed DWC office in Rekawa.

But the resort and IUCN will also work with local populations to raise their awareness about the plight of the sea turtles. They will also build cages protect eggs from predators, mostly dogs and monitor lizards, so they can hatch.

Finally, the partners will provide DWC field staff with equipment and technology to help protect the turtles.

One of the more ambitious and interesting aspects of the conservation plan is to enhance the number of native species of plants within the Anantara resort itself, thereby establishing a typical coastal habitat for native sea turtles.

Biodiversity survey

To achieve this goal, resort staff will conduct a biodiversity survey, train hotel staff on native flora, and identify and remove invasive alien plant species.

In terms of building the resort’s capacity for conservation and sustainability, Anantara will conduct staff awareness programs that focus on the value of biodiversity and sea turtles and how to conduct effective conservation work.

But raising awareness will not stop at educating the staff, as the resort will develop an awareness program that would motivate guests to get involved with the project.

The project is funded by Anantara’s “Dollars for Deeds” program, which matches east guest’s donation dollar for dollar. So, by choosing to donate $1 per night, guests will help conserve the local environment and promote the wellbeing of sea turtles.

“We are delighted to have this incredible opportunity to work closely with IUCN to kick start this milestone conservation project. Out of the seven species of marine turtles recorded around the world, five visit the shores of Sri Lanka for the purpose of reproducing. With our resort beach being a prime nesting ground for the turtles, we are in a fortunate position to have the ability to support these endangered turtles by all possible means and also to have the chance to educate our guests, team members and the local community about our conservation efforts,” comments Ross Sanders, General Manager of Anantara Tangalle.

“While providing local and global conservation benefits, this project will serve as a model to enhance Sri Lanka’s nature, culture and heritage based tourism potential,” said Dr. Ananda Mallawatantri, Country Representative, IUCN.


 

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