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Sea Turtle Rescue Mission

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Our third day at Tangalle started as normal on the beach – us laying flat out relaxing, reading, and listening to music. All of a sudden a man came running towards us shouting “Come and see, come and see!!! Hurry!!“.

First, we just thought he was selling fruits or souvenirs, so we pretended to be asleep. But the man kept on shouting, so we stood up and followed him a few meters along the beach, and we are so glad we did!

It turned out that during the night a sea turtle had wandered up at the beach to lay her eggs, but had taken the wrong way back and ended up in the freshwater laguna instead of the sea! Poor sea turtle. 🙁

stranded sea turtle

The men had been struggling for hours to get the sea turtle up from the freshwater, and onto the beach. The sea turtle would have died if the men had not gotten it out of the freshwater.

Sea turtles are among the earth`s endangered spices, and are one of the earth`s most ancient creatures, being on our planet for around 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs.

The Long Walk Towards The Sea

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It was a long way for the sea turtle to walk!

Sea turtles color varies between yelling, black and greenish, depending on the species. There are seven species of sea turtles, and this is most likely an olive ridley sea turtle.

Unlike other turtles, the sea turtles can not retract their legs and head into their shells. The shell is streamlined which makes it perfect for swimming through the water, but not so much for wading through the sand.

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The sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, so walking on the beach is not easy for them. It was also a very hot day, 30 °C, and the sand was really warm, too warm for us to walk barefoot.

The sea turtle was really struggling in the hot sand and was stopping all the time looking tired. They have strong legs, though, as they undergo long swimming migrations, some as far as 1400 miles, between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest.

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To cool the sea turtle the local men carried water from the sea and poured over her.

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The sea turtle looked really happy getting water over her shell and head. Even though turtles can stay out of water for a long time, they can also stay underwater for a long time, the green sea turtles for as long as five hours!

The usual length of a feeding dive is five minutes or less though. An amazing fact: their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen – nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats! Wow!

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After each water break, the sea turtle regained more energy and started dragging herself over the hot sand again.

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More and more people came running to watch the sea turtle, making a corridor for the sea turtle to pass through. This is apparently a pretty big sea turtle and is probably around 80 years old.

This sea turtle was born on this beach. Sea turtles, like salmons, will return to the same nesting grounds at which they were born. When females come to the shore they dig out a nest in the ground with their back flippers, bury their clutch of eggs, between 70 – 190 eggs, and return to the ocean.

This one went the wrong way, though, and ended up in the laguna. After hatching, the babies may take as long as a week to dig themselves out of the nest. They emerge at night, move toward the ocean and remain there, solitary, until it is time to mate. But very few survive to adulthood.

It is uncertain whether this sea turtle did lay her eggs or not, before ending up in the freshwater. The locals said that if she did not nest, she will come up to this beach again some other night.

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Happy Ending

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And finally, the sea turtle reached the sea!

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She looks so happy and relieved to have reached the sea.

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She immediately started swimming.

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Bye, bye beautiful sea turtle! Have a nice life out in the sea where you belong!

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Happy ending! We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time that day and able to be a part of this rescue mission. Sea turtles rarely come up onto the beach during the day, so getting good pictures and videos are very rare. We were very fortunate to even see a sea turtle at all!

At the neighboring beach to Tangalla; Rekawa Beach, it is apparently possible to go turtle-watching, but you have to pay 1000 Rs to be allowed to enter the beach! And even then you are not guaranteed to even see a turtle. PS! In Lonely Planet there is an error, saying that April to September is the best time to see the turtles, but that is wrong. The mating season for sea turtles in Sri Lanka is February – October.

Video of the sea turtle rescue mission:

Travel Guides

We used the Lonely Planet`s Sri Lanka travel guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below which will take you to Amazon.com (affiliate links):


 

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Have you ever seen a sea turtle, where? We`d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment in the comment area below. If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂

Facts about sea turtles: 

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

15 Comments

  1. Great story! So glad the turtle made it back to the sea. On St. Croix we once rescued a bunch of baby hawksbill sea turtles who had gone the wrong way after hatching. Much easier though. We just picked them up, put them in a bucket and released them into the water.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, thankfully it was a happy ending :). We were so fortunate to experience this. Love your blog! You now have two new travel nerds following you :).

      Reply
      • Loves it. I was in Mexico one night when a Loggerhead came up and laid her eggs. She seemed confused afterwards and tried to headbut her way through the sand. Took four of us to turn her around back to the sea. Seems like property lights disorient them

        Reply
        • Hi Paul,

          Thank you so much! And thanks for commenting! Wow, sounds like you had a similar experience in Mexico. Great to hear that you managed to help her back into the sea. They are such huge and beautiful animals. This was the first time I saw a sea turtle up close, and it really was an amazing experience to help her and see her swim happily away in the waves.

          -Maria-

          Reply
      • On the turtle beaches in Quintana Roo Mexico a lot of condo owners and hotels now have light turn downs and hired turtle staff to ensure safe egg laying.

        Reply
        • That´s fantastic! Hope they will do that in Sri Lanka too. There are several sea turtle hatchery and rescue centers in Sri Lanka, we visited one and they did a great job. The sea turtle babies were soooo cute! 🙂

          Reply
  2. What a lovely story and precious experience to witness a turtle being rescued! I loved seeing your beautiful photos along with the words!!

    Reply
    • Hi Kaho,

      Thank you so much for your nice comment! It was an unreal and once in a life time experience witnessing and taking part in the rescue of this sea turtle. This is also the first blog post I have ever written, the first one on our blog, so it is kind of special in many ways. 🙂

      Love your blog by the way, it`s beautiful! See that you have been or are in Sri Lanka and Colombo. Enjoy Sri Lanka, our favorite country, if you are still there!

      Best regards,
      Maria

      Reply
  3. I can’t believe this is your first blog post!!! The photos are beautiful and so well written! Your blog has grown so much in such a short period of time.

    Thank you for your kind words on my blog… I really appreciate it!! I had a fabulous time in Sri Lanka!! I would love to go back!

    Reply
  4. What an amazing thing to experience. I’m glad the turtle made it back to the sea okay and that people were willing to help. What time of year was this? I’m going in August and would love to experience seeing turtles!

    Reply
  5. Dear Maria,

    We’re in Tangalle now and stumbled upon your website, what a great source of information. And how lucky you got to see this massive sea turtle. We’re also skipping the Rekawa, not wanting to give any attention to this kind of practises!

    Enjoy your travels,

    Noemie & Hugo (We Wander Asia)

    Reply
    • Hi Hugo and Noemie,

      Ah, so cool that you are in Tangalle, we are actually here too right now! 🙂 Leaving tomorrow though, heading up to Weligama for some surfing.

      The sea turtle rescue was an amazing experience, and we are so happy that the turtle survived and made it back into the sea safely.

      Enjoy your time in Tangalle! Happy travels!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  6. Hi guys

    Great job with a turtle!
    Though, I am wondering what was the source of your info about Reakwa Beach. I was there yesterday and this is how it looks like in reality. You have to go to the place called turtle watch this is a base of the guys who are taking care of the turtles in rekawa as well as the very basic museum in which you can get some knowledge about the turtles. When you come the guide is shortly describing what are the “stages” of laying eggs and let you know how to behave on the beach (for example you mustn’t use any other light than red one in order to not disturb the turtle! I saw the great advise few posts before to take a torch or cell light,if you do that turtle will probably not lay eggs as you scary her). Coming back to the turtle watch, after short speach you are sitting in the area waiting for the info from the guys who are patrolling the beach. They call when they spotted a sea turtle. And on this point and this point only you pay 1000 Rs per person if you wat to go to see the turtle. Guide ia taking you to the place waiting until turtle starts lay eggs than group is splitted into smaller ones and you can watch each step of the egg laying. For me sounds pretty fair… and whole money goes for the activities of the turtle watch of course…

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the information about Reakwa Beach! We have been to a turtle rescue place in Mirissa which seems a bit similar to the one you visited. Thank you so much for the tip on only using red light when walking on the beach looking for turtles! I did not know that normal light scare them from laying their eggs.

      Will definitely visit Reakwa Beach on our next trip to Sri Lanka as it seems like a great place!

      -Maria-

      Reply

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