Every year, Mai Khao Beach sees the release of turtles into the Andaman Sea. This magical event sees these remarkable reptiles, so intent on survival, making a mad dash for the open water across the sand.
Mai Khao, in the north of Phuket, is home to some of the most luxurious resorts on the island. The sprawling and well-spaced grounds help to make this stretch of the Andaman coast far less densely packed with tourists. This allows visitors to better enjoy the open expanse of tropical Phuket.
Perhaps because it is less populated by homo sapien guests, it also happens to be one of the few Phuket beaches that continues to welcome members of the Cheloniidae family, or Sea Turtles.
All of the seven extant species of sea turtles are classified as either endangered or threatened, and five of them still make their home in the waters of the Andaman Sea. These are the Leatherback, the Loggerhead, the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill and the Green turtles.
The Amazing Returning Mothers
Female sea turtles typically lay their eggs on sandy and quiet beaches at night. The nesting females also tend to be creatures of habit, typically returning to the same beach when they are ready to nest. It is also remarkably common for females to return to the beach where they themselves were born to lay their first clutch of eggs.
When the female emerges from the sea, she crawls to a dry part of the beach and flings away loose sand with her flippers. She then “shovels” out an egg cavity using her rear flippers, and when it is ready, she begins to lay her eggs. Depending on the species of turtle, her clutch can range between 80 and 120 eggs. Unfortunately not all of these eggs ever hatch.
Why We Need To Act
Sea Turtles have flourished on this planet for over 100 million years, but in only the last century man has nearly brought about their extinction. The meat, shells and leather from adult turtles are prized by poachers.
Sea turtle eggs are consumed as a delicacy in some countries, or some die in fishing nets, others from pollution. Ongoing development is also destroying many nesting beaches.
The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation (MKMTF)
Mai Khao is one of the only Phuket beaches where sea turtles still nest, making its preservation a matter of the greatest importance. Because sea turtles are endangered species, and given the risks to the eggs from natural and human threats, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation (MKMTF) was formed to help ensure the preservation of these remarkable reptiles.
In fact, the MKMTF does far more than that. The organisation has dedicated itself to educating the Phuket and Thailand community about the plight of the sea turtles here in Phuket and what we can all do to help.
The Foundation implemented an integrated coastal management plan (together with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature), which encompasses educational workshops, replanting of mangrove trees, reef and beach cleaning, recycling projects.
But what they are probably best known for – their turtle rescue and release program.
Protecting The Turtles From Natural Threats
While humans have certainly made things worse, sea turtles also have natural predators. Once they reach maturity, only sharks and whales are really a threat to turtles. But actually making it to maturity is becoming increasingly difficult for sea turtles.
In addition to the man-made threats mentioned above, fish, seabirds, crabs and even dogs prey on the eggs and hatchlings. In fact, more than 90% of all hatchlings are eaten by predators.
Given the declining population of all species of sea turtle, it is increasingly imperative that the eggs be rescued. The return of the turtles to the sea can then be overseen under conditions where predators can be controlled.
Once a turtle reaches the water, its chance of survival increases – it is as an egg or a hatchling that sea turtles are the most vulnerable.
Hatchlings usually emerge from their nest as a group at night. Once they have managed to orient themselves to the brightest horizon, they make a mad dash for the open water.
In Phuket, sea turtle eggs are gathered from beaches where the turtles nest, and where the necessary natural environment can no longer be guaranteed. The eggs are given to the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) and Third Naval Area Command’s Turtle Hatchery Program, which provide safe conditions for the eggs to hatch. Incubation typically takes 50-60 days, and once the hatchlings gain their strength, they are released back into the sea.
In Phuket, this is cause for great celebration.
The Annual Turtle Release
This year will mark the 10th Year of the Mai Khao Turtle Release. The support of not just the hotels in Mai Khao, but also the local population, has continued to grow each year, making this an event to look forward to.
The release normally takes place around the Songkran holiday in mid-April, but it is no longer only one event. The J.W. Marriott and Anantara Resorts in Mai Khao both have release events in conjunction with the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, including educational sessions throughout the holiday period.
If you are in Phuket in April, especially if you are staying in the Mai Khao area, the Turtle Release is something you really must experience. But even if you are not here during Songkran, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 AM – 3 PM.
Even if you don’t get to see the little turtles racing into the sea, you can still learn more about the work of this this excellent foundation. Situated on the ground floor of JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, next to the Children Pavilion, the marine turtle shelter is a great way for children to come and learn about turtle biology and conservation.
And if you are here in October, you may be able to find a slightly more strenuous way to support the efforts of the MKMTF. The 14th annual Turtle Fun Run Half Marathon was held in Phuket, and raised approximately THB 1 million for the Foundation.
If you are a runner, or you enjoy sweating for a good cause, keep your eye out for the 15th installment of the race later this year.
For more information on the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation please see: www.maikhaomarineturtlefoundation.org
or contact: Tel: +66 (0)76 338 040 Ext. 3309 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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