Sea turtle conservation in Phang Nga
Early mornings are pretty much a given for Team Conservation, but the 6:30am songthaew ride to our turtle partners in Thap Lamu (about 6 km south of Khao Lak) has us cruising through the comparative chill of sun-up in Phang Nga.
Each week the GVI Thailand team spend around 4 hours at two turtle research and breeding facilities working to increase the wild populations of Green, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley sea turtles off the Andaman coast. Of the seven species of sea turtle found in our oceans, these 3 are the most critically endangered, with the numbers of nesting females estimated at only tens of thousands worldwide. Global populations have been severely impacted by human activity, notably our effects on the marine and beach ecosystems, the places where sea turtles live and breed. In this region, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami added a further blow to their numbers. Crucial nesting beaches and sea grass beds were severely eroded by the wave, and the two original conservation sites of the region were completely wiped out, killing workers, damaging structures, and resulting in the loss of over 2000 turtles due for release.
The reestablished facilities at Phang Nga Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Centre (CFRDC) and Phang Nga Navy Base turtle breeding facility now rear and release hundreds of young turtles every year to boost wild populations. As nesting beaches are still in recovery, hatchlings are raised within the centres. This is no easy task, as captive turtles can be prone to bacterial, fungal and viral infections. They can also be quite aggressive during the first months, and inclined to nip each other, increasing the chances of illness. These challenges, when combined with understaffing at both sites could mean that fewer turtles survive to release than we and our partners would like.
And so, armed with scrubbing brushes, toothbrushes, buckets, baskets and orange and purple medical treatments, we arrive for another slightly sweaty morning with some of the cutest reptiles in Thailand. One by one, we clean them and treat any wounds, thoroughly scrub their tanks and, let’s be honest, hone our ‘talking to tiny things’ voices while being slowly dyed a fine shade of violet. It’s not the most glamous work, it’s certainly labour intensive, and the hours aren’t great. But it’s undeniably important, and come the next release date, the rewards will be more than apparent.
By Rebecca Pitkin, 12 week Marine Conservation volunteer
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