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  • Writer's pictureHin Fah

Sea Turtles Are Back

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

With the entire world recently on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic; wildlife is returning and sea turtles on Koh Samui have made an unexpected return.

Earlier this month, the staff and guests of Banyan Tree Samui, a resort on Koh Samui’s southeastern coast, also witnessed a rare natural event: a green turtle ascending from the water in the middle of the night to lay eggs on the beach. According to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, this was the first time this has happened in six years. The turtle, which is probably around 10 to 25 years old, laid more than 500 eggs in five nests over the course of four weeks. To help provide protection, the hotel constructed shelters around the eggs.

Last week, an orange-clad monk collecting his alms on the coastline of Samui was puzzled by unusual tracks in the sand. His memory served him well as he recognised these stylised ‘footprints’ as those from a Mae Tao (mother turtle). With much excitement, he hurried to tell the local villagers, the head of the village and people who could possibly assist.

For many years, this southern stretch of beach has not seen any turtle activity. There has been sporadic activity in Samui spanning decades, the last known nest was in 2012 at the Silavadee Resort where almost 90 eggs were collected for incubation at the Samui Aquarium.

Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, Thailand’s most renowned marine ecologist, was contacted for immediate advice. Dr Thon is instrumental in influencing the public about the balance of consumption, tourism, and environmental conservation. It was agreed that the villagers would take responsibility for the eggs once the nest was confirmed. Surveillance is already in place with cameras and volunteers. A temporary structure has been built to protect the area from scavenging animals and to keep people away from the turtle nest on Wat Laem Sor beach in Muang district.

District chief Theerapong Chuaychu said the structure was to prevent people from disturbing the area and to monitor all movements around the nest, including the hatching of baby turtles in the future.

The nest is expected to contain between 150 and 200 sea turtles eggs, according to the officials.

The local community and players from Footballs for All Nations (FAN) immediately took to cleaning the beach as there is a high chance that this mother turtle will return several times and lay more eggs. Regular community beach cleanups will further take place with the support of Trash Hero Samui. The tracks and eggs have been identified to be from the Hawksbill Turtle. The mother turtle will nest between three and six times in a season which is usually every three to four years. The eggs incubate for about 60 days.

The Hawksbill is one of the smallest turtles and can weigh up to 70 kg. Its narrow head and beak-shaped jaw allow it to feed on corals and eat molluscs, crustaceans, algae, sea urchins, fish, shrimps and jellyfish. They prefer coastline living where sandy nesting sites are within easy reach.

The Hawksbill is listed as a critically endangered species. Their beautiful ‘tortoise’ shells have led to millions of Hawksbill turtles being killed within the last hundred years despite the trade ending in 1993. The turtles are protected by international agreements with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Dr Thon and the villagers are thrilled that the mother turtle has returned. Uma Kuasom, one of the volunteers that are heavily involved in various environmental activities in the village “We are so happy to be able to encounter something so magical. Tourism and fishing have clearly harmed other marine life, and it’s during this time of COVID-19 we are seeing nature return and communities working together”.

(via Samui Times, Time Out Magazine)

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