My Unforgettable Experience
As New Heaven Reef Conservation Interns, we are fortunate enough to get a hands-on experience with baby Hawksbill turtles. With feedings and health checks every day, a true bond is soon created. This month, I was lucky enough to release one of them into the ocean. The experience was one that was truly unforgettable and will contribute to the success of Hawksbill turtle populations for years to come. This once in a lifetime opportunity felt only appropriate to share with other conservation lovers.
A bit about the program…
In an effort to increase their 1 in 1,000 chance of survival to reproductive age, New Heaven is one of few dive schools to have its own head starting program. In 2012, a group of turtles set for release at the Save Koh Tao Festival were seen to be in a bad way, so it was decided that New Heaven would care for them for a while. Since then, the school has head-started many Green and Hawksbill sea turtles. The aim is that by recreating natural conditions as best as possible, the turtles will grow larger and healthier before they face the biggest experience of their little lives, the ocean.
One of the roles of an intern is to care for the turtles daily, with feedings, health checks and water changes. All the turtles get fed pellets every day, which aim to recreate the natural nutrients that they would be getting in the wild. Weekly weight checks decide who also gets fish in addition to the pellets; those that are growing well receive fish four times weekly and those that have slower growth, get it daily. All the turtles have been implanted with an IFID chip so that we can record the development of each individual and tell them apart in their tanks.
The big day…
This particular clutch of Hawksbills arrived at the school on July 23rd, 2018 (now around nine months old). All 20 were in good condition and have had little health problems since. We released the first one last month in Chalok Bay, in which we were lucky enough to have the pioneer of the program, Chad, watching with us. There was a great turn out on the day, and you could feel everyone’s excitement for the turtle’s next big adventure. When it came around for the next release, not one but two of our turtles were ready to go! The buzz could be felt around the school throughout the day, with all the interns hoping that they would be the lucky ones to release them. Names were drawn at random when we returned from our daily dive and mine was called! First came the task of naming the turtle I would be releasing, this name would be kept on record and used for years to come as its ID. Being British and following many conversations with the other interns about them, I decided to name it Crumpet. After this, it was time to get Crumpet and Yurtle from the tanks that they had called home for the past nine months and take them out to our dive boat. They were put in the feeding buckets and transported onto the longtail, along with all their eager spectators. These turtles were set for a slightly further release than the first one, heading to Tanote Bay instead of Chalok. This was because we were also releasing another older turtle back into the water, that had been injured a few months ago. Once we arrived at Tanote, preparations for the release began, with Yurtle going first. The sceptical turtle made a slow break for the ocean, staying close to the boat but soon he/she was on its way. Up next it was Crumpet’s turn. Stood on the ladder at the back of Papa George, I placed her/him carefully into the water, supporting its weight for a minute or two before letting go. I could feel the anticipation in the turtle to explore its new home and start its big adventure. It was such a surreal experience seeing the baby that I had helped raise for the past two months take those first few kicks in the wavy waters, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was thinking. As a team we had now done everything we could for these turtles. Now it was all up to them and our job as ‘parents’ was done. We can only hope that we have prepared them well enough for their turbulent lives ahead.
We can all do our part for the next stage of their lives by helping to keep their oceans clean, as one of the biggest threats to these young turtles now is pollution.
Written by Jenni Willmott (Intern from March - June 2019)