Funday Times

Friends in the ocean

By Malaka Rodrigo

"Look Aiya.. there is somebody similar to Crush, the turtle in the cartoon,” Panchie shouted, seeing a board with a picture of a turtle. Crush was a cartoon character in the film ‘Finding Nemo’, Panchie enjoyed very much.

Puncha too remembered the cartoon. “But are there turtles in these beaches Thaththa..?” Puncha wanted to know. “Do you want to see turtles..?” asked Prof. Uncle who was driving the car. “Yes.. Yes… Please uncle, PLEASE”, brother and sister shouted together. Prof. Uncle stopped the vehicle near a large board with “TURTLE HATCHERY” on it. Puncha and Panchie hurriedly got down.

“This is a turtle hatchery where little turtles are kept for a few days,” explained Thaththa to the kids, showing them a large tank with little turtles swimming around. They had small shells and were afloat, constantly paddling to catch their breath.

“The sea turtle is a reptile and has to come to the surface to breathe air,” said Prof. Uncle. “But they can also stay under water a long time holding its breath”.

A sea turtle hatchling
An adult sea turtle
Turtles arrive at an Arribada nesting site

Panchie had taken a baby turtle in her hand and took a closer look at it. “It is good to release these baby turtles to the sea, but they have to wait a few days in these tanks,” Prof. Uncle said.

“Where is their mother..?” Panchie wondered. “The mother turtle does not stay with its babies Panchie. It comes to a beach at night, digs a hole and lays dozens of eggs. Then the mother covers the eggs using sand and goes back to the sea”, Thaththa explained.

“After a few days the eggs are hatched and the little turtles usually hurry towards the sea. But unfortunately some bad people dig the turtle nest and steal the eggs”. Puncha and Panchie were sad when they heard this and vowed they would never eat turtle eggs.

“Some turtle varieties like the Olive-ridley turtles visit certain beaches during a certain period to lay eggs in thousands. Some of them migrate across long distances to reach the egg laying grounds known as arribadas”.

“Some bad people also kill the adult turtles. Because of these cruel acts, the turtle has become a threatened creature,” explained Prof. Uncle. The poster on the wall near the turtle tanks explained that there are five turtle species visiting Sri Lanka to lay eggs. They are the Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Hawks-bill Turtle, Leather-back Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle.

The poster said that most of these turtles are ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’. “This means that if we do not protect turtles and their habitats, they will all soon vanish from the seas. Do you want that to happen kids..?” asked Prof. Uncle. “No.. No.. WE MUST PROTECT OUR TURTLES,” said both Puncha and Panchie at once.

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