Rekawa and Kosgoda are two important nesting beaches in Sri Lanka. All five species of sea turtles found in Sri Lankan shores are known to nest in Kosgoda and Rekawa beaches on the south coast of the island.
There are two methods of nest protection, ex-situ and in-situ. Ex-situ protection means the conservation of turtles away from its natural habitat. Ex-situ conservation of sea turtles is conducted by turtle hatcheries. Hatchery owners buy eggs from egg collectors and rebury them in a protected area. There the eggs incubate and hatch and then baby hatchlings emerge. Then, these hatchlings are collected and kept in tanks for few days and finally released.
In-situ nest protection entails the idea of the protection of nets in their natural habitat, exactly where they were laid and therefore minimizing human interfering and maximizing hatching success. This is the most natural conservation practice among all conservation actions and the conservation of the natural habitats of sea turtles allows the turtles to survive under natural selection.
The TCP “in-situ” nest protection and research programme is designed to employ the egg collectors in a comprehensive community conservation programme with the goal of protecting the nesting marine turtle populations of the both Rekawa and Kosgoda rookeries. Therefore, Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) of Sri Lanka has initiated a community based, in-situ sea turtle nest protection programme with a grant received from UNDP/GEF Small Grant programme (SGP). The main goals of this new initiative are to protect all sea turtle nests laid within the project boundary, to provide direct and indirect alternatives to those who were previously dependent on egg poaching, to train locals in income generation, to promote eco-sensitive nature tourism, and to foster education and awareness.
Objectives of the programme
- To protect “in-situ”, all marine turtle nets located within the project boundaries and ensure that all resulting hatchling turtles reach the sea immediately after emerging from the nest.
- To provide an alternative and sustainable income to those community members currently financially dependent on marine turtle egg gathering by employing them in a system of non-consumptive and sustainable utilization of local nesting marine turtle populations.
- To collect biological data from the nesting female populations of marine turtles of each species present at turtle rookeries, i.e. number of nets per season (individual and population totals); monitoring the size of nesting female populations; growth rates of individuals; longevity of individuals beyond tagging; mean breeding frequency; incubation periods, neat temperatures and hatching success rates (in situ and hatchery comparative studies); migratory paths and geographical range.
- To raise an income through the initiation of ‘Turtle Night Watch’ nature tourism programme for programme’s sustainability.
Under these prime objectives the TCP has organized the former egg collectors into a formally recognized group of “nest protectors”, with their own committee to represent the group’s needs. For instance in Rekawa 21 egg collectors were converted to nest protectors while 15 at Kosgoda. As an alternative they have provided with the opportunity to take up the employment as assistants to the research officers of the research programme and in the in situ protection of marine turtle nests. The initiative includes a training component to train locals as tourist guides and to provide them a government-certified tourist guide license as alternative income to egg collection.
In addition, the initiative includes programmes to train locals in alternative income generation activities, such as batik and coir production, as well as an education and awareness programme on sea turtles among the school children and fishing community in Kosgoda.
The project receives considerable support from local state institutions such as divisional secretariat and the Sri Lanka Tourist Board for its successful implementation.