Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country with so much to see and do. If seeing a sea turtle is on your agenda, like it was for me, this is the blog post you’ll be wanting to read!
Animal lovers will be in heaven once they hit Sri Lanka. With opportunities to go on safari to spot elephants and leopards, go on a boat trip to spot Blue Whales or just head to the beach where wild monkeys are hanging out and pigging out on coconuts … you can tick a lot of animal related boxes!
Personally I was most excited when I was told there were sea turtles knocking about these shores. First stop on the turtle hunt …
Wijaya Beach, Unawatuna!
The most magical experience of my trip was swimming in the sea in front of Wijaya Beach Resort. There is a small reef in the sea which creates a mini lagoon. It’s super safe for swimming and an added bonus is that there are sea turtles in the area. If you’re lucky you could be swimming in the lagoon and a sea turtle will just come cruising past you.
Myself and my friend were in the sea cooling off when we saw a huge shadow coming towards us, turns out it was a whopping great big turtle! It swam right in front of us and we followed it for a few metres. We left it alone then as we didn’t want to freak it out or bother it, that was enough for us! I had my GoPro with me but in true Helen Renners style I totally forgot to press record so didn’t get a photo or a video of it … fail!
In other news Wijaya has a lovely beach bar, where if you’re lucky, (which again … we were!) You can get a nice sun lounger chair on the front of the restaurant over looking the beach.
You can play spot the turtles from here too while you enjoy a banana milkshake and a pineapple pizza. (This isn’t mandatory, this is just what we did). There is something really peaceful about watching the dark shadow of a turtle glide through the water unseen by the people swimming in there!
The coast line was palm tree heaven, lining the shore as far as the eye can see. I’m sure you can imagine this put me in a pretty good headspace!
As it got later in the afternoon and the clouds came in a local fisherman came out and set up on a rock to the side of the lagoon which just added to the peaceful feel of the day.
So in summary, if you’re around the Unawatuna area of Sri Lanka, make sure you fit in an afternoon at Wijaya Beach Bar!
Turtle ‘Conservation’ Centres
Along the southern coast there are a number of ‘turtle conservation centres’. While I am travelling I want to visit as many animal friendly places as possible. Now I am not talking about where drugged tigers pose for photos or elephants can be ridden around the jungle.
I am making a conscious effort to give my money and attention to those who genuinely care for the animals.
On my first few days I was staying in Galle and on the way to visit Jungle Beach my tuk tuk driver announced there was a turtle sanctuary on the way and instead on taking me there. As we pulled up outside it was basically an old ladies house, with what resembled a paddling pool in her garden with some turtles in. This was a really sad and eye opening start to my trip!
I didn’t get out of the tuk tuk here, because it was too sad to see and not be able to help. I didn’t believe that the 500 rupees they wanted from me would be put to saving the turtles, especially as I hadn’t expressed an interest in seeing turtles to this man. It was clearly a trick he pulled on tourists to try and squeeze a bit of cash from them.
After arriving at Soul & Surf (which you can read my review on here) I asked if they could recommend any turtle sanctuaries which were legit and thankfully they came up trumps! The Sea Turtle Hatchery and Rescue Centre, Hikkaduwa.
Now I completely appreciate it is hard to have faith in these places, but this one gave me a great first impression. We had been told there were two tickets available, one was for basic entry just to have a look around and learn about what happened inside. The second ticket option was to pay triple the price and be able to release a baby turtle onto the beach. As we arrived we were straight away told the only ticket option available was the first, as none of the babies were ready to go out on their own yet. This immediately made me feel at ease, they weren’t trying to just squeeze money out of tourists they were actually considering the turtles.
As we went in we were greeted by a lovely older man who spoke great English. He explained to us the different breeds of turtles found in Sri Lanka and where they were commonly seen. He walked us around the place and explained what was wrong with each turtle there.
Some were babies who had just hatched but were too small to be released just yet. They were eggs that had been rescued and kept safe until they were born.
Others were much bigger older turtles, who were badly damaged from being caught in fisherman’s nets or boat propellors. One turtle sadly had lost half of his front leg and couldn’t get himself back under the water, unfortunately this fella wasn’t going to be able to grow his leg back and wouldn’t be able to go back in to the wild.
Thankfully all the other stories were more positive. They were well on the road to recovery and would be released as soon as they were well enough.
Admittedly it was a pretty small place, the turtles were in concrete tanks which obviously isn’t ideal as they should be out in the wild. The tanks all looked clean, and there were a couple of empty ones being scrubbed by the volunteers there. The volunteers were very knowledgable and could explain what was wrong and what was being done to help the turtles.
There was a caged off area in the sand on the beach with little signs on. This was where there were eggs buried with the date they had been found and the date they estimated they would hatch. They were caged off so that they couldn’t be stolen by other animals or even by people, and the hatchery was guarded at night for their protection.
I know I can’t be 100% certain, but here I felt that my money was going to be contributing towards the proper running of this place. I could literally see with my own eyes the work being done to protect and heal these turtles. Was it the ideal home for all of these animals? No! But it was clear to me that the volunteers running this place were doing the best they could with what they had, and really that’s all we can ask for!
Let me know the best animal conservation places you have visited across Asia so I can try and check them out for myself!