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Turtle Conservation in Thailand
Turtle Conservation started in Thailand way back in 1947 when commercial fishing of turtles was banned. It was probably one of the first countries in the world to offer such protection. Sadly it was not as well regulated as it could have been and egg collection was widespread as well as the export of commercial quantities of turtle shell.
It was not until the 1970s that it became apparent that there was a serious problem with the turtle population in Thai waters. Regulations on the use of certain types of fishing net were then implemented and protected marine sanctuaries established. Even with this new protection Thailand managed to export 35,000 Kilogrammes of turtle shell in just two years from 1976.
Towards the end of the twentieth century the turtles not only were facing exploitation of their shells, eggs and meat but new fishing methods, ocean pollution (particularily plastic bags) and changes in the the traditional nesting beaches. Sometimes it would be something as daunting as a breakwater and at others hotels with noise, light and lounger pollution.
Royal intervention coupled with new legislation during 1979-80 saw not only a stricter regulation and enhancement of the laws but the introduction of a caring monitored programme to both protect and assist turtle populations.
Turtle Rearing Area at the Sattahip Turtle Conservation Centre
Today there is a network of Turtle Conservation Centres around the coasts of Thailand. There is too strict protection of the nesting beaches. Protection is offered by the Thai Royal Navy, Voluntary Organisations in cooperation with conservation bodies and even the Marriott Resort in Phuket.
Between them they protect beaches, rear hatchlings to a 'safer' release age and rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured animals.
One of the Pools
Though often talked of in the same breath as Pattaya the main Turtle Conservation Centre is actually some 30 Kilometres away at Sattahip. Sattahip is easily reached in a Sang Thaew but even then the Turtle Conservation Centre is some considerable distance away. It really needs a personal car or to be part of a scheduled tour.
The Conservation Centre (wild animals held in captivity = zoo) is situated with a Royal Naval area. Whereas Thai nationals can enter the base at several points and cut down on the journey access to foreigners is through a single dedicated gate. Ask directions. Here foreigners will be expected to leave some form of identification along with the registration of their vehicle. They will then be given a 'Turtle Pass' and be allowed to proceed.
Having visited some very poor and badly managed animal collections these past few years, the Turtle Conservation Centre in Sattahip was like a ray of sunshine. This place is the genuine article. Professionally, politely and expertly managed and genuinely conserving and educating. I was very impressed.
I might have enjoyed my visit more if there had not been thirty large coachloads of school children there at the same time. However this was interesting in its own right because the kids were so well behaved and not attempting to touch and tease.
The turtles they maintain and rear here are Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata, Green Chelonia mydas and to a lesser extent the Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea.
Labelled and Dated
The inevitable white one
Part of the Attractive Education Centre
Educational Photo Montage
The work at the Turtle Conservation Centre is ongoing. The place is managed and run in its entirety by the Thai Royal Navy. They protect the beaches, monitor the nests, rear and release the young. At the same time larger turtles are rescued an rehabbed and serve as educational ambassadors at the centre during their stay.
The young are reared in a network of beautifully clean and filtered pools. Here they are grown on to a release stage and then let go when conditions are suitable. This is often planned for auspicious occasions as Buddhists believe that releasing turtles brings good luck. Most, it would seem are fitted with a microchip prior to release. Some have had a radio transmitter attached and much has been learnt as to their distribution by doing so.
There is a two way flow of information as well. 'Dibba' and adult Green Turtle released in Dubai swam the 8600 Km to the coast of Thailand. Valuable new information.
Away from the rearing pools is the education centre. An interesting building in its own right because it is shaped like like a turtle. Inside there are excellent educational displays and an adjoining theatre for video display.
Entrance to Koh Loy Park
What is less well know is that there is a second Turtle Conservation Centre just a short drive away from Pattaya. This is situated at Koh Loy, an island just off the beach in Sri Racha. Happily there is no affiliation with the appalling Sri Racha Tiger Zoo.The island is approached along a causeway from the town and the Turtle Pond is situated within an attractively landscaped park. The site is shared with a number of Temples, both traditional and those which are just a bit different.
Just how the turtles in the large and filtered pond figure in the conservation stakes is anyone's guess. The pool contained 60+ large Green and Hawksbill turtles on my visit. All appeared in good health. Educational signage was present but it was very limited. The temples may hold a clue because there appeared to a turtle 'theme' to one of them. Perhaps they have always kept turtles here and this attractive pool is a modern improvement on what was here before. Perhaps they are rehab animals from elsewhere freeing up space...learning to deal with 'big water' before they are released back into the Ocean.
Koh Loy is worth a visit in its own right. There are a lot of seafood restaurants along the islands edge producing delicious food.