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Kosgoda is famous for its turtle hatchery operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1981 to protect Sri Lanka’s turtles from extinction. The hatcheries pay fishermen for eggs that they collect at night along the long sandy beach. Although October to April is the main laying season, some eggs can be found at Kosgoda throughout the year.
TURTLE FRIENDLY FISHING HOOKS ARE BEING INTRODUCED IN SRI LANKA TO STOP ACCIDENTAL KILLINGS OF SEA TURTLES
London’s Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has joined hands with a British retail chain and fishermen in Sri Lanka in introducing a turtle friendly fishing hook that would save the island nation’s endangered species of sea turtles.
It is estimated that thousands of Sri Lanka’s endangered species of sea turtles are accidentally snagged by longline fishing hooks every year.
More than 30,000 circular turtle friendly hooks are being introduced by a fleet of seven longline fishing vessels, said the MCS recently.
The new circular fishing hooks will replace the traditional “J” shaped ones. The traditional hooks could snag turtles or be swallowed by them leading to suffocation or internal bleeding caused by injuries.
If the Sri Lankan experiment is successful, the retail chain will work with the supplier, Young’s Sea Food, to distribute the turtle friendly hooks with the rest of the fishermen who use J shaped hooks.
Recent studies showed accidental catch or bycatch destroy nearly a quarter of a million loggerheads and leatherbacks, two varieties found in Sri Lankan waters, all over the world.
The circular fishing hook was a discovery by US scientists that delivered results in the conservation of the sea turtles, said the species policy officer Peter Richardson of the MCS. “The development of the circular hooks by US scientists and fishermen has been the turtle conservation success story of the decade.”
“Surveys by our conservation partners in Sri Lanka indicate that fishery bycatch is a significant threat to the turtle populations there.” he said.
Richardson said, “While the 30,000 hooks distributed in Sri Lanka represents only a fraction of the hooks needed to turn the bycatch situation around there, MCS is extremely encouraged that two of the major players in the industry are taking such an exemplary step in the right direction to make these fisheries more environmentally sustainable.”
“With widespread and correct application in Sri Lanka, the introduction of these hooks could result in a 90% reduction in the number of turtles accidentally caught by Sri Lanka’s longline fisheries.”
Sri Lanka is one of the leading countries in the world that has paid attention to the conservation of sea turtles.
A MCS statement said, “By converting just two fishing vessels to turtle-friendly gear and techniques, 200 juvenile and adult marine turtles could be saved each year.“It is said that if we can protect and manage 3 km of beach in Rekawa and Kosgoda we may be conserving 90% of the turtle population visiting Sri Lanka. We need to provide adequate protection and develop appropriate strategies to protect and manage 2.5 km in Rekawa and 0.5 km of the Kosgoda beach.”
A recent study of Sri Lankan sea turtles said, “The beaches of Sri Lanka are the nesting grounds for five species of marine turtles. They are the Green turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill the Loggerhead and the Olive Ridley. All 5 species have been recorded to nest along specific areas of Sri Lanka’s coast. Studies have indicated that beaches can be categorized in accordance with visitation by different species of turtles. For example Leatherbacks nest at Walawe Modera and Godawaya. Hawksbill nest at Bentota while Green Turtle nest at Rekawa and Kosgoda. Loggerheads nest at Welipatanwala. But Olive Ridley nest everywhere.”
In Sri Lanka there are 18 hatcheries found along the southern coastal line; of them nine hatcheries are found in the district of Galle, and one is found in the district of Hambantota (Darwin’s Cabana).
A growing interest is manifest in the field of turtles everywhere in the world. While an infinitesimal minority of carnivores are bent on destroying this disappearing breed of marine turtles for their flesh and shell, a preponderant majority of people in many countries are keen to protect them and provide them sanctuaries.
Marine turtles were roaming the oceans for about 190 million years. Among the many different varieties of this species only eight of these ancient reptiles are found living today.
Of the eight Sri Lanka is famous for five kinds of turtles who regularly visit the sandy beaches to nest in Sri Lanka’s South Western and South Eastern beaches from Induruwa to Yala and Kandakuliya in the Puttalam district.
Along the South Western coast, turtles rest in Induruwa, Kosgoda, Akurala, Mavela, Rekava and Kahanda Modera. In the South Eastern beach from Usangoda, Ambalantota, Bundala upto Yala the turtles are found.
Mr. Bertie Jayasekera, Director of the Wild Life Conservation Department, said:
“The following five different species visit Sri Lanka beaches to nest.
Regrettably a large number of visiting turtles are caught by local fishermen for flesh and shells which is a lucrative market. Mr. Jayasekera said all turtles and their products are fully protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Anyone found guilty of committing this offence will be liable for a jail sentence and fines.
Sea turtles are protected under International Law. Sri Lanka has barred international trade in sea turtle products, Mr. Jayasekara added.
Giving some facts on turtles, Jayasekera said: “Turtles have lungs and must come to the surface to breathe every thirty minutes. When they are asleep their bodies do not need as much oxygen and they are therefore able to spend the entire night underwater.
“Turtles are known to migrate over long distances. A Leatherback turtle tagged in French Guiana in South America was recovered in Ghana some 3,800 miles away.
“Marine turtles are believed to reach sexual maturity at thirty years and live to be over eighty years old.
“Adult females are believed to return to the beach on which they hatched to lay their eggs. Sea turtles prefer quiet, dark, undisturbed places where they will be less vulnerable to predators.
“Between 80 and 120 eggs are laid in each nest. The eggs are white and about the same size and shape as a table tennis ball. A single female may nest up to five times in a season.
“The temperature of the nest during incubation determines the sex of the hatchings. When they hatch the young turtles make their way straight to sea and swim constantly for up to 2 days.
This is known as the “juvenile frenzy” and allows the hatchings to escape the predator rich inshore waters. Every 1,000 eggs laid are believed to yield only one mature adult sea turtle.”
Those who desire seeing turtles visiting the South Western and South Eastern coastal villages can do so in the night from a distance with the aid of binoculars. Nesting turtles should not be disturbed and light disturbances should be minimised at night.
The Wild Life Department has launched a public awareness programme on the biology and conservation value of marine turtles to save the reptile from extinction. (Text by Nemasiri Mutukumara).
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