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  • Turtle Watching Sri Lanka

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Turtle Watching Sri Lanka


Marine turtles have been roaming the world's oceans for about 190 million years. Today eight species of these ancient reptiles remain. Five of these species regularly visit the sandy beaches of Sri Lanka to nest.

Throughout the world, marine turtles are hunted and butchered for their flesh and shells. Even female turtles that have hauled themselves up the beach to nest are killed and their eggs are stolen.

The result of this global over exploitation is that this highly successful group of animals, which managed to survive with the dinosaurs, has become critically endangered. All species of marine turtle face extinction if man does not cease his destructive activities.

  • In Sri Lanka all sea turtles and their products are fully protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Anyone found to be violating the conditions of this Ordinance is liable to face a substantial fine and/or prison term.

  • Sea turtles are also protected under international law, therefore international trade in sea turtle products is illegal in countries, such as Sri Lanka, which are signatories to the CITES Convention. (CITES - Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species)

The small fishing village of REKAWA is a vital eco tourism venue located about 10 km east of the south coast town of Tangalla , Sri Lanka .


  • Turtles have lungs and must come to surface to breathe every thirty minutes. When they are sleep their bodies do not need as rush oxygen and they are therefore able to spend the entire night underwater.
  • Turtles are known to migrate over distances. A Leatherback turtle tagged in French Guiana in South America was recovered in Ghana some 3800 miles away.
  • Marine turles are believed to reach sexual maturity at thirty years and live to over eighty years old.
  • Adult females are believed to return to the beach on which they hatched, to lay their eggs. Sea turtles prefer quiet, dark, undisturbed beaches where they will be less vulnerable to predators.
  • Between 80 and 120 eggs are laid in each nest. The eggs are white and about the same size and shape as a table tennis ball. A single female may nest up to five times in a season.
  • The temperature of the nest during incubation determines the sex of the hatchlings. When they hatch, the young turtles make their way straight to sea and swim constantly for up to 2 days. This is known as the "juvenile frenzy" and allows the hatchlings to escape the predator rich inshore waters. Every 1000 eggs laid are believed to yield only one mature adult sea turtle.


  • Do not kill turtles or eat turtle flesh.
  • Do not eat turtle eggs and discourage others from doing so.
  • Never buy "Turtle shell" or any other marine turtle products.
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles.
  • Minimize light disturbance on the beach at night.
  • Do not throw litter on the beach, in rivers or in the sea.
  • Assist in law enforcement by notifying the Department of Wildlife Conservation of any of enrichment the law.

Turtle species in Sri Lanka

Olive Ridley Turtle - Lepidochelys olivacea

This is the most common of the turtle species visiting Sri Lankan shores. Olive Ridley turtles sometimes appear in large numbers. The peak nesting period in Sri Lanka is between September and November. The Olive Ridley Turtle is the smallest of all the marine turtles. It has a round olive coloured carapace devoid of any markings but with a serrated edge. The Olive Ridley is omnivorous, eating crustaceans, small fish and occasionally marine vegetation. Olive Ridley which reaches a length of 80 cm and commonly weighs about 50kg.Oilve Ridley turtles nest in huge congregations known as arribada's. In Orissa in North East India about 600,000 females nest on one beach on a few consecutive nights each year.

Leatherback Turtle - Dermochelys coriacea

The Leatherback turtle is the largest of the sea turtles. The biggest specimen ever seen by man was 3 m long and weighed 916kg. Leatherback turtles feed almost exclusively on jellyfish and therefore often fall prey to marine pollution. Plastic bags floating in the water look like jellyfish, the turtle eats the plastic which lines its stomach causing the animal to starve to death.


Green Turtle - Chelonia mydas

Nesting of Green turtles is reported from all turtle nesting sites, with the highest abundance in Kosgoda and Rekawa. The carapace of this species is oval in shape and has a green and black mottled appearance. Green turtles nest throughout the year on Sri Lankan shores, with their peak season being between January and March. The diet of the Green turtle changes during its lifetime. Juveniles are mostly carnivorous, feeding on a variety of worms, crustaceans, and small fish, whereas the adults are herbivorous, feeding only on marine vegetation (sea grasses and algae).


Hawksbill Turtle - Eretmochelys imbricata

Hawksbill turtle by its hawk-like pointed beak and the colourful, o verlapping scutes on its carapace.The Hawksbill is relatively smaller than the other marine turtles.Hawksbill turtles are able to store toxins from jellyfish, sponges and crustaceans in their flesh. Consumption of Hawksbill flesh can prove fatal. A number of people in Sri Lanka have died as a result of eating Hawksbill turtle flesh. Hawksbill turtles have been driven to the brink of extention by the "tortise shell" trade. The turtles' scutes are removed while the animal is still alive and are then fashioned into ornaments and souvenirs. Its narrow head and jaws shaped like a beak allow it to search in small crevices of coral reefs for food. 


Loggerhead Turtle - Caretta caretta

Loggerhead turtles are the least common of the marine turtles nesting in Sri Lanka. These turtles are so named because of their large head, containing a pair of muscular jaws. They are distinguished by the colour of their carapace that has varying shades of brown and the pattern of scutes on their carapace and head. Loggerheads feed on sponges, jellyfish, mussels, clams, oysters, shrimp, and a variety of fish. The main nesting season for this species is between November and January.


Threats To Marine Turtles In Sri Lanka

Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy by many people. Almost 100% of the eggs laid along Sri Lanka 's South West coast are collected for consumption and for sale of hatcheries. If egg collection continues at this rate, Sri Lanka 's marine turtle population will soon become extinct.

Nesting female turtles are highly vulnerable when they emerge to lay their eggs and many are slaughtered for their flesh. Hawksbill turtles are slaughtered for their shell which is crafted into ornaments and souvenirs. Hawksbill turtles face certain extinction in Sri Lanka unles this trade is stopped.

Bright lights from uncontrolled development on the back of turtle nesting beaches scare away nesting females and can disorient hatchlings.

Increased human activity on nesting beaches due to tourist development and population growth can disturb turtle nesting. Modern fishing methods, such as the use of nylon fishing nets, .have resulted in a higher incidence of lethal turtle bycatch.

Marine pollution claims the lives of countless turtles each year. Poor, unscientific management pratices at existing turtle hatcheries mean that these institutions are making little or no contribution to turtle conservation.

ack of public awareness about the biology and conservation value of marine turtles result in continued destructive exploitation.


Turtule Nesting Sites In Sri Lanka

turtle nest map   Place Name Species
1 Induruwa Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Leatherback Turtle
2 Kosgoda Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle,
Hawksbill Turtle
3 Akurella Green Turtle
4 Mawolla Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle
5 Rekawa Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle.
6 Kahandamodara Species unknown
7 Ussangoda Leatherback Turtle
8 Ambalantota Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle
9 Bundala Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle,
Hawksbill Turtle
10 Yala Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle,
Olive Ridley Turtle.
11 Kandakuliya No nesting has been recorded hare
but thousand of Olive Ridley Turtles
are caught here each year by local fishermen.



turtle nesting 000 turtle nesting 001 turtle nesting 002
Mothers come ashore Build a chamber to lay their eggs The Mothers lay dozens of
eggs under the warm sand
at night to incubate
turtle nesting 003 turtle nesting 004 turtle nesting 005
Once the mother turtle
lays her eggs she then
returns to the sea
The surviving hatchlings
emerge about two months later

The difficult part for the hatchlings
begins: The great journey to the sea

turtle nesting 006 turtle nesting 007 turtle nesting 008
A baby Caretta-Caretta
hatchling trying to make
its way to the sea

 The great journey to the sea
comes to an end once the hatchling
reaches the safe warm waters

20-30 years later the female
turtles will return to their
natural beach to reproduce 


Indo-Pacific Marine Turtles Identification Key

Turtles Identification Key


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