The Turtle Conservation Project
Marine turtles have roamed the oceans for well over a hundred million years. Having been in existence since before the time of the dinosaurs, some of these species have remained unchanged for millions of years. However, the world has seen an alarming decline in turtle population during recent times. From the millions of turtles that once thrived, only seven species of marine turtles remain in existence today. Six of these species are classified as endangered, of which three are listed as critically endangered.
The continuous and ever-increasing threats to their existence is causing the outlook for marine turtles to seem even more grim. With the mortality rate of newborns being generally high even under natural conditions, human activities over the past 200 years are causing the world to see fewer and fewer turtles living long enough to reproduce.
Slaughtered in the millions for their meat, skin, shell and eggs, the direct exploitation of marine turtles is still taking place today and contributes to the drastic decline in turtle populations around the world. However, the single greatest threat faced by most marine turtle populations is the unintentional capture of turtles while fishing. As fishing activity expands, more and more turtles are caught as bycatch and turtles, who need to surface for air every 30 minutes or so, usually suffocate to death after being caught in fishing nets. Turtles are also killed due to injuries caused by other fishing gear such as longlines and pots and traps. Other factors that contribute to the decline in the turtle population include habitat destruction, disease and climate change. Turtle nesting areas are being disturbed due to beach developments, piers, artificial lighting and insensitive tourist expansions and most nesting grounds have been abandoned due to human interference.
Five out of the seven remaining turtle species regularly visit Sri Lanka to nest. The country's South Western and South Eastern beaches from Induruwa to Yala and Kandakuliya in the Puttalam district are some of the popular turtle nesting areas. However, among the coastal communities, the collecting of turtle eggs is a traditional practice and sadly almost all the nests are excavated for domestic consumption or sold to turtle hatcheries or markets. In fact, the main threats to the turtle fauna of Sri Lanka have been identified as the collection of turtle eggs and improper hatchery practices.
Needless to say, conserving marine turtles is of principal concern given the situation. The Fortress Turtle Conservation Project hopes to help these endangered creatures by trying to reduce the odds already stacked up against them and increase public awareness of the dire situation these creatures are presently in. Turtle eggs are bought from local fishermen at a higher price than what they would usually receive at the market. The rescued eggs are then buried in an enclosure where they can hatch safely away from predators, before being released into the ocean.
Only about one out of thousand hatchlings will survive and reach adulthood. Despite the gloomy outlook, the project hopes to maximise the number of hatchlings reaching the sea in order to give them a better chance of survival.
The success of any species is ultimately based on its ability to reproduce and survive. Though it is a painstakingly challenging task, it is crucial for proper conservation efforts to be made. If this is not done, the world could soon see the disappearance of these ancient mariners for good.