The Turtlewatch in Rekawa, Sri Lanka, aims for a balanced approach between protection of turtles, community development and eco-tourism. Since turtles are (critically) endangered and their eggs still poached for consumption it is crucial to protect their nesting beaches.

In 1993, Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) was established in Sri Lanka as an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO). TCP aims to protect all sea turtles native to Sri Lanka. The TCP began to initiate local and national conservation programs in Sri Lanka to address vital environmental issues. The TCP, from the beginning, aimed to devise and facilitate the implementation of sustainable marine turtle conservation strategies through education, research and community participation. Their activities consisted for example of protecting the turtles and turtle nests, community building, raising awareness and research activities.

In 1996 the TCP established its fundamental program in Rekawa (7 km east of Tangalle) by a pioneering in situ marine turtle conservation program, after research confirmed that Rekawa is Sri Lanka’s most important turtle nesting beach. Since the most widespread form of turtle exploitation within this area is illegal poaching of turtle eggs, the TCP implemented an environmentally sound model – a program involving local people formerly dependent of the collection of turtle eggs. By involving them as ‘nest protectors’ and ‘research assistants’ TCP was able to provide them with an alternative, more sustainable income to the poaching of turtle eggs.

The nest protectors organized themselves as the Nature Friends of Rekawa (NFR). As from 1997 tourists were invited to come and watch the nesting process of sea turtles. Therefore, a couple of the nest-protectors where trained to be a guide. In 2006 Rekawa beach was named the first official turtle Sanctuary of Sri Lanka, so the beach has a special status and it is not allowed to develop hotels upon the beach. TCP’s program in Rekawa gained recognition internationally and still continues their important work – for more information, please check their website, www.tcpsrilanka.org.

Since 2012 Rekawa is a community run project, managed on a day by day basis by the local nest protectors of NFR. With the support of tourists who visit the project, they became self-sustainable.