Should you visit a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka?
Here’s what we found out about the turtle hatcheries in Sri Lanka…
Hello friends! Today we had an amazing experience swimming with wild turtles off the beautiful coast of Sri Lanka.
Turtles are one of those animals that I just adore; to see them eating sea-grass and chilling out in their natural home was just wonderful. We were also very lucky when we went whale watching in Sri Lanka the other day and spotted two turtles mating, so we are on a turtle roll!
One of the reasons that our full time travelling family decided to visit Sri Lanka was to see the abundant wildlife, and we were very excited about visiting a turtle hatchery or Sri Lankan turtle sanctuary. I couldn’t wait to take the kids to see the eggs that had been carefully collected, the baby turtles that had been saved from a brutal start to life, and the older vulnerable turtles that were cared for at the turtle hatcheries.
Our experience of a turtle sanctuary
When we were in Bali a few months ago we had our first experience of a turtle hatchery. We stayed in Sanur for six weeks and one day as we were walking along the beach we saw a sign: “Turtle Hatchery”.
Behind the sign, among the hair-braiding stands and sunglasses vendors and plastic tables and chairs selling coconuts, was a large, roughly-made wooden shed. I could see what looked like four large concrete paddling pools, and I put my head inside to see what it was.
“Oh, yes!” said a lady who appeared next to me. “Turtle sanctuary, we rescue the babies. 150 rupiah to release one!”
The four concrete structures were grim rectangular pools with baby turtles inside. There was little natural light, nowhere for the babies to rest on and no food source. Every now and then a tourist would come in, pay the equivalent of £5, pick up a baby and take it down the sea or fling some weed into the pools.
Forget the fact that babies usually hatch at certain times of the day, forget the jet-skis and paddle-boarders and swimmers in the waves, forget that usually these babies make their first journey in groups, using their birth instincts to get miles out to sea to have their first feed.
After asking around I found out that local fishermen collect the eggs and sell them to these ‘hatcheries’ for profit. There is no conservation going on here; it is purely a money-making scheme and is very damaging to the baby turtles’ chances of survival.
Usually when turtles hatch they spend 3-7 days digging themselves out of the sand and they emerge at night, when it is cooler and there are fewer predators and they use the moonlight to navigate themselves down to the sea.
They then imprint the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field so that they can return to the same spot unto 30 years later to lay their own eggs. They swim without stopping for up to 2 days to hide in long seaweed, where they are camouflaged.
This 2 days is essential for the babies’ strength- fighting against the tide and the waves, they become stronger for their life out in the open ocean.
In Bali and Sri Lanka turtle hatcheries where tourists come to pay and release baby turtles, the animals don’t get a normal start. Fishermen paid by the ‘hatcheries’ walk along the beach, stabbing long sticks in the sand and sniffing the end to see if there is liquid egg on them.
When they find the eggs they dig them up and sell them to hatcheries who put them in sand and then into tanks when they hatch. The turtles swim for up to 2 days around in their tanks because of their birth instincts before stopping, exhausted, and floating.
Turtle hatchery Sri Lanka: Do we recommend it?
Despite my deep desire to watch a tiny baby turtle flip its way down to the ocean, after researching the hatcheries properly it is fairly clear that unfortunately they are not there for conservation purposes and are not a good thing for Sri Lanka’s wildlife so we would not recommend visiting them.
If you want to interact with turtles, it is possible to do so without visiting a turtle hatchery Sri Lanka and disrupting the natural life cycle of these beautiful creatures, and in an even more fun way. Check out our post on swimming with turtles in Sri Lanka to see how you can meet these gentle creatures in the wild, or follow this info to see turtles laying eggs or hatching from the wild nests!
When can you see turtles in Sri Lanka?
You can see turtles year-round in Sri Lanka. If they are not nesting or hatching, you can swim with them off the shores of the island. We did it in Mirissa (see the link above) by swimming with them, and we also saw turtles mating in the middle of the ocean on our blue whale watching trip.
What Time Of Year Is Turtle Hatching in Sri Lanka?
We saw a baby turtle hatch, completely at random, in Mirissa in January. We also saw a turtle lay their eggs in February on a nighttime trip where we were guided by infra-red light and watched from a distance as the turtle laid her eggs.
Can you hold a baby sea turtle?
You should never hold a baby sea turtle as it causes them stress and affects their imprinting (their navigation system to know their way back to shore).
Useful Visitor Info:
If you’re heading to Sri Lanka, you will want to book ahead to get the best deals. We recommend using Hotels Combined as they take the hard work out of looking for hotel, using several search engines to pull their results.
For the first night in Sri Lanka stay near the airport for ease. We recommend the Galle Face Hotel (luxury), the Best Western Elyon (mid range) or Global Towers Hotel (budget) in Colombo, or Ocean Glory in nearby Negombo.
If travelling to Mirissa for whale watching or swimming with turtles, we recommend Bloom Guest house (budget), Celestial Inn (mid range) or Nisala Villas (luxury) or in Unawatuna stay in Rock Fort Hotel (mid range) or Sergeant House (luxury).
We also recommend purchasing the Lonely Planet Sri Lanka guidebook before you come out to help decide which route and areas are best for you.