Published: 10:45, May 16, 2024
Thailand frees endangered turtles with trackers to boost conservation hopes
By Reuters
This photo provided by Interpol shows a turtle seized by Thailand custom officers on Nov 17, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

PHUKET, Thailand - Off the shore of Thailand's resort island of Phuket, marine conservationists have released 11 baby leatherback sea turtles into the Indian Ocean, hoping they can thrive in the wild and return in two decades to reproduce.

The release of the year-old turtles, each about the size of a rugby ball, follows an intense conservation effort to boost the leatherback's survival chances after the discovery in 2018 that the endangered species had returned to lay eggs in southern Thailand.

Thailand is one of five countries, including Sri Lanka and Canada, that have been able to nurse this species of baby turtle up to their first year. A typical leatherback will lay eggs after 20 to 25 years

The stronger turtles have successfully made their way into the ocean, while others perished after hatching, so a program was launched to nurse the weak baby leatherbacks, according to Pinsak Suraswadi, Director-General of Thailand's Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

Thailand is one of five countries, including Sri Lanka and Canada, that have been able to nurse this species of baby turtle up to their first year. A typical leatherback will lay eggs after 20 to 25 years.

ALSO READ: Celebrating Buddha's birthday, a South Korean DJ is in spotlight

They were released in April by conservationists and have satellite tags to monitor their progress, part of an international initiative by the non-profit conservation organization Upwell Turtles.

"It's necessary for us to study the travel routes of the baby turtles to understand where they are going so that we can implement measures to protect the leatherback turtle while they are hatching from their nests," said Pinsak.

And it's forecast to be a difficult season after unseasonably warm temperatures and an ongoing drought left forests tinder-dry.

Despite having an evolutionary history of more than 150 million years and surviving the extinction of the dinosaurs, the species is now critically endangered in the Pacific region.

ALSO READ: Recycled products shatter old ideas about ceramic waste

This type of turtle has an estimated population in the Pacific of fewer than 2,300 adult females, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

After their release, the turtles still face dangers from fishing gear, eating plastic waste, and exposure to toxins.

"I'm happy to know whether our effort in nurturing the leatherback sea turtles for a year proves fruitful or not," said senior fishery biologist, Hirun Kanghae.

"If they survive it answers everything about the conservation and population restoration of the leatherback sea turtles in the best way possible," he said.