Continuing its work to replenish Thailand’s endangered sea turtle population, the Royal Thai Navy this week released 779 turtles and 90 small sharks into the wild in honor of HM Queen Sirikit’s 78th birthday.
Adm. Supakorn Buranadilok, commander of the Royal Thai Fleet, presided over the Aug. 10 ceremony at the Sea Turtle Conservation Center in Sattahip – about 45 minutes south of Pattaya – along with other top navy officials and representatives from MarineScape Thailand and the governor of Chiang Mai.
Among the endangered turtles released back into the wild were six female reproductive-age Green and Hawskbill turtles. A 10-year-old male Hawksbill, which will not reach reproductive age for another five years, and four 2-3-year-old female turtles were also released.
In addition, 90 brown-band bamboo sharks, raised by at the Chiang Mai Zoo’s Aquarium and MarineScape, were also set free. The small bamboo sharks are the most common shark seen by divers in Pattaya, but are also a common catch for Thai fishermen.
Rear Adm. Chakchai Phucharoenyot, commander of Air and Coastal Defense Command, said it was hoped the 16-year-old turtles would help repopulate the Green and Hawksbill populations, which were nearly destroyed due to fishing and pollution. Nearby Koh Khram is the main site for turtles to lay their eggs.
The male turtle population has been especially hard hit due to global warming, Chakchai noted. Temperature of an egg determines the sex, with females resulting from eggs heated to more than 32 degrees. As a result, there are now many more female than male sea turtles in Thailand. HM the Queen – who has made the environment her cause – is especially concerned about the turtle population, he said.
Aquanauts interns visited the Conservation Center last November where were treated to a lecture and video presentation about the Navy’s work to rebuild Thailand’s five endangered breeds of sea turtles, tour an educational exhibit, visit its aquarium and nursery and, in a grand finale, release 6-month-old baby turtles into the sea.
Divers can expect to find Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green turtles while in Thailand with Green turtles being the most common in Pattaya Bay. Green turtles are also the most endangered of all of Thailand’s sea turtles. The Navy’s Sea Turtle Conservation Center is combating this by rescuing eggs laid on Koh Khram and two smaller islands nearby that all fall under Navy jurisdiction and working with fishing fleets around Thailand to protect the animals while still preserving the fishermen’s way of life.
A key part of that is rescuing eggs after they’re laid. The center has gone from raising just 700 turtles a year to more than 20,000 today. They are raised in nursery tanks until they are six months old. Tank water is changed daily and sick turtles are nursed back to health while kept in isolation.
The Navy also goes out to Koh Khram to modify nests to regulate the temperature to ensure more male turtles are born. Chakchai said the center will often prepare a second nest where temperatures can drop from 32 to 28 degrees or less, allowing for a better male-female balance. Nests between 28-32 degrees will have an equal amount of male and female newborns, he said.