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Something About the Sea Babies

Every year on 16th June, we celebrate World Sea Turtle Day. Having moved to Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island) permanently, I get to hang out with these sea babies and observe them in real life, so I thought I’d write a bit about them.

Koh Tao is part of the Gulf of Thailand and is home to two types of sea turtles: Hawksbill Turtles and Green Turtles.

Fully grown Hawksbills (left) are smaller. They have parrot-like faces with sharp “beaks” and are darker in colour. The shell's edge resembles a saw. Historically, these shells were used to make tortoiseshell combs, glasses, and accessories.

Green Turtles (right), more commonly found here, are my favourite due to their playful personalities. They have rounder heads and can grow as big as a coffee table.

Much about their habits and routines remains a mystery. After hatching and entering the ocean, we don’t know where they go until some return as adults.

We’ve been able to keep track of most sea turtles here through a Turtle Registration system where locals and tourists upload pictures of their encounters along with details like date, time, and location. Those lucky enough to encounter an unregistered turtle first get to name it. I’ve been lucky to "discover" two Green Turtles, naming them Choltida (above) and Moumi. Hopefully, Myogi and Kikilala will join our turtle family soon. Despite appearances, pros can identify individual turtles by unique markings, tracking their behaviour, health, and whereabouts. This database links with others in nearby areas and as far as Malaysia, since sea turtles can travel great distances but always return home to lay eggs.

In places like the hatchery in Sipadan, Malaysia, conservationists relocate eggs to controlled environments to balance genders—temperature determines sex: below 28°C produces males, above 31°C produces females, and in-between produces a mix. A friend taught me this phrase: "Girls are hot and guys are cool," for an easy reminder. This balance is crucial due to climate change.

With limited resources, Koh Tao adopts a more natural approach, protecting only at-risk nests with fencing and nanny cams. Hatchlings are released at night when it’s quiet (as opposed to naturally in the early morning) using red light to guide them to the sea, avoiding predators and tourists. Watching this process is a privilege, seeing these little babies clumsily make their way into the big wide world.

After many years without turtles laying eggs here, last July we finally had nests again. Turtles lay eggs according to moon cycles, with each batch spaced a few weeks apart, and they can lay up to three batches.

Sadly, only 1% of hatchlings survive to adulthood, facing threats from exhaustion, predators, and human activities like plastic pollution and fishing nets. Understanding their life cycle is crucial so we can protect these remarkable creatures and ensure their survival for future generations.

Until the next letter!

C x


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