Marine turtles have inhabited the seas for nearly 190 million years. Only eight species have survived to the present day. Five out of these visit Sri Lankan shores regularly. You can observe them on the South Western and South Eastern beaches where their most frequented nesting sites lie. In the south-west, the most favoured locations for turtle-watching are Kosgoda, Rekava, Induruwa, Kahandamodara and Mavela, while along the south-eastern coastline it would be Bundala, Ussangoda and Ambalantota and up to Yala.
The five species observed on our island shores are the Green Turtle, Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Loggerhead.
The turtle, which spends most of its life cycle in the sea, comes to land only to lay eggs. It is a fascinating mystery of nature that, to lay her eggs, the mother turtle always returns to the beach where she was hatched, regardless of how far she has travelled.
Turtle-watching is a nocturnal activity as the turtle ventures out only after darkness has fallen. The observers must take care not to disturb the turtles in the slightest with noise or light. It is necessary to maintain your distance and stay out of sight, observing the process through binoculars. The best position is to lie concealed amidst any thick growth in the fringes of the beach. The mother turtle is extraordinarily alive to any intrusive presence as she approaches the shore and will paddle back to the water if she feels the slightest suspicion. However, once she has made a pit in the sand with back flippers and started to lay, she will persist adamantly at her duty even if she was nudged or lifted.
Between 80 to 120 eggs are deposited in one nest. Each season a female may nest up to five times. The white eggs are the shape and size of a tennis ball. For the young, after hatching, even waddling to the sea is highly hazardous. Predators from crows to leopards are avid for the tiny hatchlings, moist and tender with fragile shells. Of course, the same threat, doubled many times, awaits them in the ocean.
So, as a natural defense mechanism, baby turtles swim far to the sea constantly for two days. Nonetheless, only one out of a 1000 eggs laid actually evolve into a mature adult turtle.