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Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Sri Lanka, a gift of life for endangered turtles

KOSGODA (Sri Lanka): It's 6.30 p.m. Dusk begins to give way to nightfall when a man walks up to the beach here with a big box containing a

special load -- three-day-old turtles. The box is tipped over, the hatchlings scamper towards the ocean and within minutes they are bobbing away into the waves.

Yet another 'regular' day for 47-year-old K. Chandrasiri Abbrew who has released 3.5 million turtle hatchlings in the past three decades.

As the baby turtles moved further away into the sea, Abbrew said: "It gives me immense happiness to save the lives of these baby turtles."

Abbrew, who runs the Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Research Centre that was started by his father, says that the baby turtles have to be released only after the predatory birds are no longer flying in the sky.

"When we release them, the baby turtles make a dash for the sea. However, some of them find it difficult and we gently help them," he says with a beatific smile.

Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, Abbrew said that from 1979 to 1982, they used to pay Rs.5 for 100 eggs to the fishermen who brought the turtle eggs to them.

"The fishermen would find the turtle eggs and we paid them money so that the eggs were not sold in the market. We want to save the turtles," he explains while standing at the palm-fringed beach in Kosgoda, about 80 km from Colombo.

From 1986 to 1990, they paid Rs.25 for 100 eggs. The rates for the turtle eggs have constantly gone up with Abbrew today paying Rs.800 for 100 eggs. The eggs are laid by the turtles under the sand on an eight-kilometre stretch of the Kosgoda beach.

Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in Sri Lanka with exotic dishes being prepared specially during weddings. Turtle meat is in great demand in the island nation. "Green turtles face a threat as it is used for preparing soup."

"Animals are not dangerous. People are dangerous," Abbrew says emphatically.

He stated that the survival rate of the turtles has gone up following their efforts.

The turtles taken care of at the sanctuary include green turtles, loggerhead turtles, leatherback turtles, hawk's bill turtles and Olive Ridley turtles.

Explaining the method from the laying of the eggs to the release, Abbrew said that the hatching period varies from 48 days for the green turtles to about 60 days for the leatherback turtles.

"Once the eggs hatch, the day-old turtles are put in a water cubicle. On the third day, we release them."

Abbrew said that their research has revealed global warming is having an impact on the green turtles. "We have noticed that the scales of the green turtles are changing."

The centre does more than release hatchlings; it also takes care of wounded turtles. "Turtles get injured by boats. Right now, we have a turtle whose both front flippers were cut in a boat accident. We are taking care of it. Also, we have a blind loggerhead turtle."

They apply ayurvedic medicines to heal the injuries.

He rues that there is no government help for running the centre. "We raise money through tickets to see the turtles. We have also received support from an international company."

As the next big wave hit the Kosgoda coast, it wiped off the tiny flipper prints left on the sand by the turtle hatchlings and Abbrew began preparing for another day of saving the turtles.


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