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Sadly, although sea turtles have lived on this planet for 130 million years, the 7 global species of Marine Turtles are all in serious decline throughout most of their range. Habitat degradation, pollution, egg poaching and over-fishing threaten to make them extinct.

An International campaign was launched on 1st March 2006, under the banner of the Year of the Turtle 2006, uniting peoples from Australia to Thailand and Iran to South Africa. The organisers hope to spotlight the threats and encourage even greater public support for these extraordinary marine creatures. Quite frankly they need all the help they can get.

Historically, five of these species have been found in Thai waters, although there have been no records of the loggerhead turtle in the last 15 years. The four species of marine turtles that can still be found in Thai waters are as follows:

The Green Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)

The green turtle is found in scattered areas in both the Andaman and South China Sea coasts, nesting in both areas. They are listed as globally threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and are protected by International Law (CITES) and Thai Law.
The Hawksbill Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbill turtles are found near off-shore islands in the coastal waters of the Andaman Sea, and the northern Gulf of Thailand. They are listed as "Critically Endangered" in IUCN's Red List. It is listed in CITES, and is protected by Thai Law.
The Olive Ridley Turtle
(Lepidochelys olivacea)

The number of nests on three major nesting beaches has declined dramatically between 1985 and 2002.

Olive Ridley's are listed as "Endangered" by IUCN, and are protected by CITES and Thai Law.
The Leatherback Turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea)

The leatherback is only known to nest on the Andaman Coast. The leatherback has been listed as globally endangered since 1970, and was confirmed as "Critically Endangered in Thailand" in 1996. It is listed in CITES, and is also protected by Thai Law.
The sea turtle is a reptile which spends all of its life in water. It obviously needs to go to the surface from time to time, to breathe air. Bear in mind they can actually drown if severly frightened by divers.
The natural longevity of the sea turtles is not entirely known, but they grow very slowly taking about 15 years to reach maturity.

The sea turtle's diet includes sponges, marine worms and molluscs.

Adult Green turtles for example are largely vegetarian, eating underwater grasses and seaweed, whilst the Hawksbill turtle is carnivorous and eats invertebrate animals of the coral reefs.

The distribution of turtles in Thai waters is spread out along the fine sand quiet beaches of the coastline and islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. These two geographical areas also reflect different nesting times of the turtles.

In the Gulf of Thailand the most important nesting areas for green and hawksbill turtles are Khram and adjacent islands which are located in the inner Gulf, Chonburi Province. There are some islands along the east coast from Chonburi, Rayong and Trat Province and some islands in the middle Gulf of Chumphon and Surattani Province where sea turtles are occasionally found. In the Gulf areas, green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs all year round with the peak from May to August.

In the Andaman Sea coastal areas of Thailand, the main nesting areas are north-west coast of Phuket, and Phang-nga provinces. In particular these areas include Thai Muang Beach and Phrathong Islands of Phang-nga Province, Mai khao beach Phuket, Tarutao Island and Adang-Rawi Islands of Satun Province . Olive ridley and (occasionally) leatherback turtles are found in these areas. The green and hawksbill are found at the Similan Islands, Surin Islands and Tarutao Islands. The nesting season of sea turtles in the Andaman Sea region occurs only from October to March with a peak from mid-November to mid-January.

Some environmentalists suggest that the immediate post-tsunami era may see a slight increase in returning turtles to these nesting areas. The tsunami acted as nature's clean up operation.
Turtles usually lay their eggs between November and March.

The females come ashore after dusk, but they have been observed nesting until just before dawn. They select their nesting site and dig a small pit 18 inches deep using their rear flippers. A clutch of between 40 to 180 eggs will be laid, after which the pit will be carefully concealed by sand before they return to the sea. The whole process usually takes about one hour. During the egg laying, the eyes of the turtle will be covered by a colourless mucus to prevent dehydration and keep out the sand grains.

After an incubation period of 60 days, the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface of the pit, usually at night when the sand is cooler. Hatchlings locate the water's edge by orienting themselves to the horizon, but distant house lights can disorient the youngsters so that they actually crawl away from the sea.
egg laying
The best diving areas to see turtles are the Similan and Surin Islands National Parks, visited by liveaboards from Phuket.

Turtles are most commonly seen in shallow reefs on dive sites such as East of Eden (Ko Payu, Similans) or Ko Torinla (Surin), but you may see them deeper on rocky sites such as Elephant Head Rock or Deep Six (Ko Payu, Similans). The usual sightings are Hawksbill and Green turtles.

At Thai Muang (National Park), Leatherback and Olive Ridley are the two main species of nesting turtles.
There is an annual 7 day event here, usually during the first week of March, to release young turtle hatchlings, which have been raised by the Fisheries Deptartment, back into the sea.
This is designed to heighten people's awareness of the declining numbers of nesting females and promote conservation efforts.
Marine Turtles have been given legal protection in Thailand for many years, and His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyade and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit have initiated several specific turtle conservation projects.

The Royal Thai Navy has an active role in the turtle conservation program and regularly patrols beaches in the Similan and Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea, for intruders and poachers. They also protect the green and hawksbill eggs laid on the remote islands and keep them safe from predators such as birds and crabs. Once they are born, the turtles are brought to the Navy's turtle protection centre in Phang-nga province where they are nursed for another six months before being released into the sea.

There are several NGO's (non-government organisations) and volunteer groups working in Thailand with the aim of protecting sea turtles. Naucrates, for example, have greatly reduced egg poaching on the islands of Ko Phra Thong and Ko Khao, just north of Khao Lak.

Sea Turtle Conservation Centre at Phang Nga Naval Base at Thap Lamu

Turtle Conservation Centre Thap Lamu Naval Base

Turtle Sanctuary at the Coastal Fisheries and Development Centre

This centre takes care of injured turtles and also has some hatchlings. It also has some fish such as the clown fish.
The centre is situated about 1 km from the Thai Muang National Park HQ.
It has sponsors which organise turtle charity events from time to time, in order to raise funds for the project.

Young Turtle releasing, at Thai Muang beach - annual event

Re-scheduled in 2021: 12th April to 21st April

There is an annual 7 day event, usually during the first week of March, to release young turtle hatchlings, which have been raised by the Fisheries Dept., back into the sea at Thai Muang National Park beach.

One of the prime objectives of the Park is to offer protection to the visiting nesting turtles and increase the survival rate of the young. Even so it has been estimated that the hatchlings have a one in a thousand chance of making it to adulthood.

Leatherback and Olive Ridley are the two main species of turtle which frequent the Park.

They come ashore to lay their eggs on moonlit nights between November and April, at which time the beach is patrolled by Park rangers.

For conservation and protection purposes, most of the eggs are removed by staff to a nursery. Incubation takes 60 days, after which time the youngsters are released naturally back into the Andaman Sea.

The particular releasing in March is designed to heighten people's awareness of the declining numbers of nesting females and promote conservation efforts.

At first glance some aspects of the so-called Turtle Releasing Festival, with its associated food and plastic wares market, parades and speeches seem incongruous and excessive.

However within Thai Buddhist culture the release of animals, particularly marine life such as fish and turtles, offers great blessings of good luck. The celebrations are a manifestation of the happiness invoked by this great fortune

Baby turtles instinctively heads towards the brightest horizon. To avoid distractions from the on-shore festival, and to ensure the youngsters head in the right direction, the Royal Thai Navy enlists the help of the local squid boat fleet. The squid boats line up a couple of hundred yards off shore and splay their long arms of powerful bulbs. Shortly after dark, and in a dazzling blast of luminescence, the squid boats light up the shoreline, and the hatchlings do in fact make it to the sea.

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