Nursing Sea Turtles in Phang-Nga
At the Thai Royal Navy Sea Turtle Conservation Centre in the southern province of Phang-Nga, for a couple of hours and a bit of elbow grease, animal lovers and volunteers can get exhilarated by the fact that they have done something useful to others. To the sea turtles, to be exact, as these animals are being nursed to be released and live on their own in the big vast oceans.
For those familiar with the dire fates of the seas, and the sea turtles, you should also know that humans are not only destined to destroy. We are also capable of helping and doing many things that can perpetuate and sustain the living things on earth. Sea turtles used to be abundant, so abundant that the Thai government used to allow turtle eggs to be harvested for consumption. Until, yes, there were practically no turtles left in the oceans. And people got a bit wiser and more considerate along the way, and realised that we cannot live on our own. We need the environment good enough to produce us healthy and clean food, air and all things we need to live on. Most of us, hopefully, come to understand that the world is in fact the only home we have.
The Sea Turtle Conservation Centre was a Royal Initiation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother of Thailand back in 1979 following the drastic decline of sea turtles in the Thai seas. Back then, this centre was a part of the Department of Fisheries, but later it was transferred to the Royal Navy. There is one such conservation at the navy base in Sattahip, Chonburi and the other one here in Phang-Nga where most of the hatchlings are collected from Hu Yong island, which is a part of the Similan archipelago about 2 hours off Phang-Nga shores. This Hu Yong island has been designated as a protected hatching ground for sea turtles.
There are about 5 species of turtles in Thailand’s seas: green turtle (Tao Tanu), hawksbill turtle (Tao Kra), Olive ridley turtle (Tao Ya) and Leatherback turtle (Tao Mafeung), also known as the world’s largest. No matter the species, turtles face serious hurdles to grow and survive. Statistically, less than 50% hatchlings released each time make it out to the deep sea and merely 20% of that number survived to maturity, or to be at least 15 years of age when they are ready to mate and reproduce.
Nursing turtles require certain routines of feeding, cleaning and tending. Here, we learnt that turtles are individualistic, and they love their privacy. That means, being kept together in one large pool can produce some ‘accidents’ with more aggressive ones biting the others. Regular monitoring is also necessary, especially for the younger ones.
And that’s when some volunteer works can be useful. Visitors pay Bt60 per person for a full visit, but should you need to be a part of this effort, you can choose the time around 9.00, 13.00 or 17.00 when feeding takes place, so you can help with the feeding.
If you look for more labour-intensive works, you can plan your visit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when all the pools are scheduled to be cleaned. Regular cleaning is mandatory here to prevent possible diseases. Apart from cleaning the pool, you can also help scrub off some algae that accumulates on the turtle shells. Such a great chance to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.
Be cautious though because these turtles are susceptible to germs and diseases. You will need to watch your hands thoroughly before handling them, and also make sure you follow the handler’s instructions.
Wedged between Krabi and Phuket with its popular beach stretch called ‘Khao Lak.’ Phang-Nga is known for its natural wonders. This one province contains three and a half national parks and a trail of hot springs dot the area not too far from Kapong District. Rains, drizzles and clouds are typical scenes of Phang-Nga, they make the sceneries of these secluded place even more mesmerising.
The Royal Navy Turtle Conservation Centre is a bit south of Khao Lak, about 20 minutes drive. The centre sits on the stretch of beach called ‘Chai Had Son Ngam,’ – pristine and quiet, and a part of the Royal Navy.
For those interested in releasing the turtles back to the sea, you can also contact the conservation centre for more details. Usually, annual release ceremonies are scheduled twice per year, starting March. For more information: T: (076) 453-342