The Victor Hasselblad Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Centre is located on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast at Kosgoda, just over an hour’s drive from our hotel in Galle.
On arrival, our guide Lokuya, told us about the seven kinds of sea turtles with five of them being found in Sri Lanka (Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, Leatherback). As they are endangered, the centre hatches eggs brought to them for safety before poachers have an opportunity to steal them. We were given two fertilised eggs to hold, the size of ping pong balls, which had soft shells due to the lack of calcium.
Although the female turtle doesn’t start laying eggs until they reach sexual maturity at between 20 to 30 years, they continue laying eggs for around 50 years. As they can lay up to 110 eggs, 3 to 8 times a year that’s an amazing number of eggs for one turtle. Once laid, the female doesn’t return to the nest and the hatchlings are left to fend for themselves. The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchling (females for warm sand and vice versa).
The centre is also home to turtles injured through fishing activities and for rescued albino turtles, 1 in 10,000, as the lack of pigment makes them an easy target for predators.
Explanations over, it was time for a somewhat whistlestop tour of the centre with its large tanks containing both one-day and two-day old hatchlings which are released on day three. We were able to hold them and were shown the difference between the green and loggerhead turtles. Once released, they will return to the same beach continuously, which is why they’re not put directly into the sea, but only 1 in a 1,000, survive to maturity. We were also given the chance to hold a young turtle, which was surprisingly heavy.
As well as seeing the turtles in their tanks, there was lots of interesting information boards, including: a map of Sri Lanka showing the nesting sites; the differences between the species; and the size that they can grow to with the shell of the Leatherback reaching 5 to 8 feet.
It was a fascinating visit, and it would have been easy to spend much more time here taking everything in.