Sea Turtle Success Story

Sea Turtle with infections

One of the sick sea turtles that arrived in June 2013, this one with skin infections (yellow spots)

2013 was the second year for the NHRCP Sea Turtle Rehabilitation and Head-Starting Program, and we are happy to report a zero percent mortality rate for our little hatchlings. On June 17th  2013 we received 27 hatchlings about 3 months old from the Thai Navy, 26 of which had skin or other infections, and 17 with injuries (scars, open wounds, etc). The hatchlings ranged from 6.8cm to 10.5 cm in shell length, and weighed an average of about 200 grams. The first few weeks were critical, as we worked closely with Dr. Jae from the NOISTAR Koh Tao Animal clinic to provide regular injections of antibiotics and vitamin supplements.

In our flow-through tank system, the turtles quickly began to heal their wounds and the prevalence of infections dropped dramatically by the end of the second month. The first month of growth was slow, but by August the weights of the turtles started to rise rapidly, from an average of 222g to 1,384g in just 5 months (see the graph of turtle shell lengths at the bottom of this post). As the turtles grow, they become too large for the tanks we have, and we release them out. So far we have released 12 of the turtles into the sea, and have a remaining 15 turtles that will be released over the next several months.

But we do not measure our success only by the fact that the turtles remained healthy and that none died during the period of the program, we have also been seeing more reporting of juvenile (2-5 year old) Green and Hawksbill Turtles on the local reefs. In just the last month alone we have had reports from Sail Rock, Sai Tong, Mango Bay, and White Rock. We cannot be sure that these are our turtles, but the rise in numbers is promising, and with the fact that we implant all of our turtles with RFID tags we hope to research the correlation in greater detail.

 

Turtle number 16 swimming free

One of the small hawksbills received in April 2012 (number 16) Swimming free after being released in Chalok Ban Kao in February of 2013.

Of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide, 5 are listed as either ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN (the other two are listed as ‘Vulnerable,’ and ‘Data Deficient’). Species such as the leatherback have been on the list since the 1970’s, but there has been little progress made in their protection and no rebound in their numbers. We aspire to protect our local populations of sea turtles through these types of nursery and head-stating programs which may not only increase the amount of education and awareness amongst the locals and tourists, but also directly restore and boost local populations.

 

We owe a lot of the credit for the 100% success rate of the sea turtles to our refined methods and dedicated team of interns and students, and most notably our turtle caregiver, P’Win. We would also like to thank the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources for allowing us to conduct this program, and the Thai Navy for providing us with the turtles and assisting us in other aspects of turtle protection on the island.

 

 

 

Conservation course students take data on the growth of sea turtles as part of our head-starting program

Conservation course students take data on the growth of sea turtles as part of our head-starting program

On our website you can learn more about our sea turtle head-starting program, and also check out our article on “How Do Sea Turtle Programs Work?”

 

If you are interested to join our program or receive our new Sea Turtle Ecology and Head-starting Program Certification Card please contact us by email or stop by the dive center anytime.

 

The interactive graph below shows the average shell lengths of the sea turtles in our nursery for the 2013-2014 season. The data for the smallest and largest turtle is also shown. For more data about our sea turtle program please contact us directly.