Kosgoda is famous for its turtle hatchery- operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1981 to protect Sri Lanka's turtles from extinction. The hatchery pays fishermen for eggs that they collect at night along the sandy beach. Visitors can see huge tanks filled with new born turtle hatchlings. After being fed, the baby turtles are taken to the sea and released when they are 2-4 days old, usually during the safer hours of darkness. Although October to April is the main laying season, some eggs can be found at Kosgoda throughout the year.
The beaches of Sri Lanka are the nesting grounds for five species of marine turtles. They are the Green Turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Loggerhead and the Olive Ridley. All 5 species have been recorded to nest along specific areas of Sri Lanka's coast. Studies have indicated that beaches can be categorized in accordance with visitation by different species of turtles. For example Leatherbacks nest at Walawe Modera and Godawaya. Hawksbill nests at Bentota while Green Turtle nests at Rekawa and Kosgoda. Loggerheads nest at Welipatanwala. Olive Ridleys are the only species of turtle that nest everywhere.
There are 18 hatcheries found along the southern coastal line; of them, nine hatcheries are found in the district of Galle and one is found in the district of Hambantota (Darwin's Cabana). According to statistics from 1996 to 1999, nearly a hundred thousand sea turtles were hatched and released to the sea from these hatcheries. A growing interest is manifest in the field of turtles everywhere in the world. While an infinitesimal minority of carnivores are bent on destroying this disappearing breed of marine turtles for their flesh and shell, a preponderant majority of people in many countries are keen to protect them and provide them sanctuaries.
Marine turtles were roaming the oceans for about 190 million years. Among the many different varieties of this species only eight of these ancient reptiles are found living today.
The following five different species visit Sri Lanka beaches to nest:
Regrettably a large number of visiting turtles are caught by local fishermen for flesh and shells, which is a lucrative market. All turtles and their products are fully protected in Sri Lanka under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, as well as by International Law. Anyone found guilty of committing this offense will be liable for a jail sentence and fines.
Turtles have lungs and must come to the surface to breathe every thirty minutes. When they are asleep their bodies do not need as much oxygen and they are therefore able to spend the entire night underwater. Turtles are known to migrate over long distances. A Leatherback Turtle tagged in French Guiana in South America was recovered in Ghana some 3,800 miles away. Marine turtles reach sexual maturity at thirty years and live to be over eighty years. To lay their eggs, adult females return to the beach on which they hatched. Sea turtles prefer quiet, dark, undisturbed places where they will be less vulnerable to predators. Between 80 and 120 eggs are laid in each nest. The eggs are white and about the same size and shape as a table tennis ball. A single female may nest up to five times in a season. The temperature of the nest during incubation determines the sex of the hatchings. When they hatch the young turtles make their way straight to sea and swim constantly for up to 2 days. This is known as the 'juvenile frenzy' and allows the young turtles to escape the predator-rich inshore waters. Every 1,000 eggs laid are believed to yield only one mature adult sea turtle.
If you want to see turtles visiting the South Western and South Eastern coastal villages you can do this at night from a distance with the aid of binoculars. Nesting turtles should not be disturbed and light disturbances should be minimised at night.