Sea Turtles or marine turtles are turtles that inhabit all of the world’s oceans except the Arctic. And most species of sea turtles are endangered. The seven living species of sea turtles are: Flatback sea turtle, Green sea turtle, Hawksbill sea turtle, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, Leatherback sea turtle, Loggerhead sea turtle and Olive Ridley sea turtle. Sea turtles constitute a single radiation that became distinct from all other turtles around 110 million years ago.
Sea Turtles have few natural predators in adulthood. They are however extremely vulnerable when young and particularly as hatchlings when they can be attacked by mammals, birds, crabs and fish amongst others. Nests of eggs make an attractive food source to many scavengers. However, by far the most dangerous predators of turtles are humans. Turtles and their eggs are valuable commodities in the black market. Many view turtle eggs as an aphrodisiac; as a symbol of fertility and they sent to other countries. In Sri Lanka, sea turtle nests are robbed of their eggs by poachers for sale on the black market. Furthermore, turtles are vulnerable to extreme weather, habitat degradation/loss and sea or beach pollution; much of which has been caused by human activity.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, Diesel and Motor Engineering PLC (DIMO) recently took steps to actively involve and fund the Turtle Conservation Project along the Panama coastal area. This program was done together with the expertise and knowhow of Environment Foundation (Guarantee) Ltd. (EFL), along a 4km stretch. DIMO is the first private company in Sri Lanka to financially assist a Turtle Conservation program. This is being carried out as a three year program, with initial focus on the first year. “As a responsible corporate entity, DIMO is proud to partner this Turtle Conservation project with EFL, where we identified the importance of protecting sea turtles. We share the oceans and the beaches with many other species. And if human’s can alter their behavior, there is still time to save sea turtles from extinction. Eventually, we may be saving one of the earth’s most mysterious and time-honored creatures. Through this project we are converting poachers into protectors, which I believe is a commendable accomplishment” commented Mr. Ranjith Pandithage (Chairman-DIMO).
The nest protection program was kicked off in January 2013 with the recruitment of 5 people from the Panama village protect the nests in the area. Every day, the nest protectors start patrolling the beaches at 07.00 p.m. and continue to work till early morning. Four protectors conduct nightly patrols (two patrolling opposite directions), while one remains at the research station in case of an emergency.
DIMO Nature Club is an internal group within DIMO, determined to carry out projects and activities to protect the environment and the community. DIMO Nature Club members also visit the Panama locations frequently to assist with the Turtle Conservation and to share the experience of saving Sea Turtles for the next generation.
Two types of Turtle species have been identified at the recording site from January. They are the Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea) and the Hawksbill Turtle(Eretmochelys Imbricata). The Leatherback Turtle(Dermochelys Coriacea), considered to be the largest in the world had also visited the site twice, without nesting. It is assumed that their nesting activities do happen in April.
A total of 105 nests have been protected as at mid April by the nest protectors. Out of which 97 nests belong to the Olive Ridley species and 8 nests belong to the Hawksbill species. Approximately 11,000 eggs have been protected from January to mid April 2013. The first nest hatchings were observed from 3rd of March 2013, and have been continuing very successfully. So far 4,245 hatchlings have made their way to the sea and more than 89% of the eggs have successfully hatched. These are very encouraging statistics and show a lot of promise for the project.
Of the seven species of sea turtles, five are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as either “endangered” or “critically endangered”. Globally, the Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, and Leatherback sea turtles are listed as “Critically Endangered”, the Loggerhead and the Green as “Endangered”, the Olive Ridley as “Vulnerable” and the Flatback as “Data Deficient”, meaning that its conservation status is unclear due to lack of data.
Ultimate goal of this initiative is to bring multi-stakeholder integrated approach with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Coast Conservation Department (CCD), various NGO’s and the Panama fishing community towards protecting this coastal stretch. Marine turtle can be used as a symbolic species to conserve one of the healthiest sand dunes in Sri Lanka and its associated habitats that are used by a multitude of species. Nature enthusiasts can find more information on the project in www.dimolanka.com & www.efl.lk websites.