Aquatic species endemic to Sri Lanka are found in abundance along the coastal belt and in other ecosystems. Yet due to various activities carried out by humans, these species have faced threats of extinction. One such aquatic creature is the sea turtle. Sri Lanka is home to five different species of turtles that are found in various habitats. However, it was reported that during the last five to ten months, many turtles have been killed due to suspicious fishing activities, especially along the Kosgoda coastal belt. In an attempt to find more details regarding this sudden phenomenon, the Daily Mirror visited the area and spoke to a few individuals including those attached to turtle hatcheries.
“The seashore is no more a safe place
When the Daily Mirror visited the Victor Hasselblad Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Centre in Kosgoda, we learned that turtles had been victims of various inhumane fishing activities, which had been carried out during the recent past.
Speaking to us, the owner of this turtle conservation centre, Chandrasiri Abrew said that turtles are usually eaten by sharks or due to gill nets used by fishermen.
Gill nets are fishing nets that are hung vertically, so that fish get trapped in them by their gills. “There’s no point in breeding them because they are killed once released to the sea. People also use dynamite for fishing and this is another killer.
"The seashore is no more a safe place for turtles to lay eggs"
“The seashore is no more a safe place for turtles to lay eggs. The waste from the hotels, polythene and other materials, have polluted these areas. Turtles have a higher tendency to feed on polythene, because it appears to them like jellyfish. These creatures usually live for a long time but it is sad that they are dying at a rapid rate.”
One significant feature of this turtle conservation centre is that it treats turtles, who have met with various accidents, while at sea including shark attacks or even those who have collided with fishing boats. In addition to that it is also home to turtles that have been born with various disabilities.
“Turtles will be extinct within another 15-20 years”
“During the days of the tsunami, the fishermen were given various equipment to carry out fishing activities, many of which have been hazardous for other marine creatures,” Amarasena Fernando, the owner of Amarasena Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda said.
“The Green Turtle usually comes to the surface of the sea to breathe in fresh air and during these instances these creatures most often encounter these accidents. Also there are new hotels being built in the vicinity and all the waste is dumped in to the sea. This is one of the major threats that we face right now.
"The Green Turtle usually comes to the surface of the sea to breathe ... during these instances often encounter these accidents. "
“Why many of these Green Turtles got killed is a mystery and we think that it is due to these careless fishing activities. When the turtle gets entangled in the nets, they do not have a way to move out. Therefore they die after some time. We believe that within another 15-20 years, the turtle will be an extinct species in Sri Lanka. Another thing that we should understand is that as soon as baby turtles are born, we shouldn’t release them to the sea. This eventually becomes meat for the sharks and other big fish.”
During the recent past, news of a missing albino turtle made headlines. Mr. Fernando said that when a new species is born and bred, our people try to export it to other countries.
“This too is a tragedy. We have no control over these activities and therefore the Wildlife Department and other authorities should be involved in controlling these activities and saving the turtles.”
“Gill nets should be banned”
Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the General Manager/ Chief Executive Officer of the Marine Environment Protection Authority Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara said that turtles were air-breathing creatures and therefore had to come to the surface to breathe.
“The extensive use of gill nets are the probable cause of these sudden deaths. Once they come to the surface they get entangled in these nets and drown,” he said.
“Thereafter they are brought to the shore and are skinned for meat and other purposes. This is one reason.
“Another reason is the fact that turtles feed on jellyfish. But when they see polythene they think that they are jellyfish. In addition to that fishermen use dynamite for fishing which causes high pressure waves.
“Since many turtles have been killed during the last few months as reported, I believe a proper investigation including autopsies on dead turtles should be conducted.
“What needs to be done it to impose a ban on gill nets because they are harmful to dolphins as well.
“Quality and features of fishing gear will be altered”
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Mahendra Jayatilleka representing the National Aquatic Resources Authority (NARA) said that so far no survey had been done to find out the reducing number of turtles.
“However we will be conducting a survey next year. In addition to that we will also be considering the alteration of the quality as well as the features of various fishing gear used by fishermen in order to reduce the threats faced by other marine organisms.”
Sea turtles may become extinct in Sri Lanka in the next 15-20 years
Gill nets main cause of increasing number of turtle deaths