Ko Tao may be named after the turtle, but this is due to the island’s shape, rather than an abundance of real live turtles. There is however a place you can see them – and support a worthy cause while you are at it.
Research suggests that there once were quite a few turtles coming to Ko Tao’s beaches to nest, but as the number of visitors rose over the years, turtle numbers declined. The island does see still see three species of turtles – Green, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley – and if you're diving or snorkelling (and in luck) you may well see one.
As a part of a turtle conservation project, rather than being released when still babies, turtles are instead kept for a year in simulated natural conditions through a process called "head-starting". The aim of this is to reduce the mortality of juvenile turtles by essentially releasing a one-year old healthy turtle rather than a baby.
Turtles are kept in marine tanks at New Heaven Dive School in Chalok Ban Khao. They're fed raw fish daily between 16:00 and 17:00 and as there is no zoo-like barrier, you can really get up close and personal – though you are not allowed to handle or touch the turtles in any way – and watch them swim around, chase each other, snap, eyeball you or generally laze around in the flow of the water. The centre is open to visitors daily 08:00 to 19:00.
According to the New Heaven website, they receive new turtles around the middle of June, and begin releasing them in October. Depending on the starting size of the sea turtles, most will be released by the following January or February.
This is a grassroots project undertaken out of love for the ocean and its inhabitants and the project really needs the support of visitors. While there is no entry charge and the team will take their time to chat to you about turtles, their survival and progress – you will see their passion, dedication and excitement.
Donations are welcome and as this is just one of the many marine conservation projects New Heaven is involved in, this seems like a good spot to make a contribution.
By Stuart McDonald.
Last updated on 5th November, 2016.
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