The Wildlife Department has requested the National Aquatic Resources Research & Development Agency (NARA) to take over the turtle hatcheries in the coastal areas as their research fields, Wildlife Department Assistant Director Upali Padmasiri said.
He said that under the Flora and Fauna Protection (Amendment) Act, No 22 of 2009, turtles are a strictly protected species and thus, they cannot be sold, captured, caged or bred.
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Mr. Padmasiri said the main reason behind the request was that, though it looked as if the turtles were being conserved by the hatcheries, the practice could be ecologically harmful as it may change the gender balance of the turtles.
“If the eggs are protected where they are laid, it is fine. But when the eggs are taken away and hatched in another place, the temperature under which the hatching takes place differs, which in turn determines the gender. Thus the gender balance of the turtles is affected,” he warned.
Explaining more of the downside of the turtle hatcheries, Mr. Padmasiri said, when the turtles hatch in their natural habitat, they head for the sea and swim for 48 hours non-stop, passing areas where most of their predators are. “But when they are hatched in simulated environments, they are put into tanks in which they swim for 48 hours. As a result when they are released into the sea later, they do not have the strength to swim past their predators and hence become easy prey,” he added.
“Even with conservation, less than 1% of the turtles released into the sea get an opportunity to grow into adulthood,” he said. The Wildlife Department had once considered regularising laws to accommodate the turtle hatcheries within the legal framework, but now research has proved that the very hatcheries could be detrimental to the conservation of this protected species, he said. However, Mr. Padmasiri added that on the positive side the turtle hatcheries put an end to the sale of turtle eggs in the open market, which was a huge problem a few years back. “Moreover, they give protection to injured turtles too,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project Manager Dudley Perera said although the state did not have legal provisions to grant permission to maintain turtle hatcheries, there were about 10 hatcheries in existence, some of which were about 25 years old.
“What we do is to preserve the eggs that would otherwise have been sold in the market. And we are doing this without government or NGO assistance,” he explained.
He added that, to maintain the hatchery, they charged Rs. 20 per visit from locals and Rs. 200 per visit from expats.
“NARA monitored the hatcheries for sometime, but now they have stopped doing so,” he added.
Kosgoda Police Officer in Charge C.I. Padmalal said this area was famous for its turtle hatcheries. “We fine those caught stealing turtle eggs from the beach. But the killing of turtles is less now due to the hatcheries,” he added.