We are pleased to announce the arrival of 10 new Green Sea Turtle hatchlings to our head-starting program. After we released the last big healthy sea turtle from our 2013 batch in February of 2014, we have been missing the turtle program. The spring of 2014 proved to be a low year for Hawksbill nesting in Thailand, so we did not receive our normal batch from the Thai Navy at that time, and were getting depressed that maybe populations are declining faster than currently predicted.
But, The Green Sea turtles have had an incredible nesting year, and now the hatcheries run by the Thai Navy in Hat Yai, Chumphon, and Sattaheep are all full. We were looking forward to getting some of those hatchlings after they reach about 2-3 months of age, but then just last week got a very welcomed phone call from nearby Koh Phangnan. It seems that they had three clutches of eggs laid on a secluded beach, in front of the Haad Gruad Beach Resort in Late July. The owner of that resort quickly notified the local government, and along with other members of the local community they took it upon themselves to construct large cages to put around the nests and protect the eggs.
In Mid-October, in preparation for the hatching, they also constructed ‘run-ways’ down the beach, consisting of wood walls to direct the new hatchlings to the sea. The locals were also in contact with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources in Chumphon, who advised them to either let the turtles go out to sea naturally, or collect the hatchlings after they run down the beach and send them to our program here on Koh Tao.
On the evening of October 21st, 15 hatchlings came out from the sand at about 10:30 pm, and all ran right down the beach and into the sea. However, 7 of them swam to the lights of a nearby fishing boat. The fisherman, being a local of the island, collected the hatchlings in his boat and contacted the municipal government (Tesaban), who decided then that for the rest of the turtles it would be best to collect them. On the 22nd at about midnight 3 more emerged from the sand.
On October 23rd, my wife Noog and myself went down to Koh Phagnan to meet the local community members taking care of the nests and collect the turtles that had already hatched. We were met by a representative of the local municipal government named Khun Rit, who was not only very knowledgeable about sea turtles but had also been involved in creating some artificial reefs and organizing beach clean-ups around the island.
He brought us to the Haad Grua Beach Resort, where local resort owners showed us the clutches of eggs and the methods they had used to protect them, and presented us with the three turtles that had hatched on the 22nd. Next we went to go and meet the fisherman who was holding onto the 7 hatchlings from the 21st. By afternoon we were back on the boat to get the turtles to the NHRCP head-starting center in Chalok. That afternoon, Shin Arunrugstichai arrived to assist in watching the turtle nests and advising the local community as to caring for the new hatchlings.
The turtles are now comfortably living in our head-starting tanks at the dive school, and 2 days after arriving started eating seaweed and fish, with a big appetite. They are only about 4cm long and weigh 20 grams at the moment, but over the next 9-12 months they are going to grow to over 20 cm long and over 1.5 Kgs. During that time we will care for them and keep them safe and healthy together with Dr. Jae of the Koh Tao Noistar Animal Clinic. After about 5 months we will begin releasing the first few turtles to keep the tanks from getting to crowded, and after about 10 months they will have all been released, either on Koh Tao or by the great community back on Koh Phagnan who protect the eggs for the last three months.
The natural survival rate of sea turtle hatchlings is estimated to be about 1 in every 1,000, and with the anthropogenic problems of marine debris and overfishing this rate is getting even lower. Sea Turtle Head-Starting programs such as this help to reduce the loss of juveniles due to predation or starvation to increase the turtle populations, giving us more time to address the bigger threats affecting them around the world. We invite your assistance in these programs by getting involved in our marine conservation courses, and of course you can watch these little babies grow up by following along on our facebook page.
Thank you very much to the local community of Koh Phangnan who have been involved in this project, including the Municipal Government and the Had Grua Beach Resort. Thank you also to Shin Arunrugstichai for spending three days and nights alone on the beach drinking red bull to help out and take some amazing photographs of the event.
Update from 28 October, 2014
Today Noog and I went back to Koh Phagnan along with three members of the DMCR team to dig up the clutch of eggs from which the last few turtles have hatched from (19 in all; 8 released to the sea and 11 in our nurseries). The eggs where quite deep in the sand, with the first ones encountered at a depth of 46cm. Most of the eggs had broken and split open, however 24 where found to just not have developed, and two had been broken into by worms.
There was however some good news, as one turtle was found under the sand, presumably it had been there since the last one hatched on October 26th, or possibly longer. Luckily by opening up the clutch of eggs we were able to save it. This little turtle is very weak, has a few serious infections, a slight deformity of the left front flipper, and a small missing section from its carapace. But we are confident we can get it back to health, especially with the very competent assistance of Dr. Jae Intaraksa of the Koh Tao Noistar Animal Clinic.
Today the turtle got its first round of antibiotic and vitamin injections, which will continue for at least the next 3 days. Check back here soon for updates.
See the full gallery of photos from the first few days of the new nest of sea turtles