What to expect on a turtle watch evening:
Upon arrival, our local guide or a volunteer (if available) will welcome you and explain about the program, the rules of the evenings and any other relevant info.
- We will be waiting at the visitor center until a turtle is spotted by one of our nest protectors. Our nest protectors are on the beach all night watching for arriving turtles and protecting them. They will give the guide a sign as soon as there is a turtle on the beach – then he will take you there.
- Please keep in mind that Rekawa is a rural village and most men don’t speak any English. Our guides speak English to a decent extent – if a volunteer is on site, he/she might help explain some more. We also have a summary with most relevant information translated in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Polish.
- In the visitor center, you can find a lot of information on sea turtles, their behavior and their threats. You are of course also very welcome to ask our guide or volunteers any questions.
- Normally, you can watch a documentary about the project and sea turtles around Sri Lanka, while waiting for a turtle. The documentary is made by the BBC, as part of the Saving Planet Earth series.
- If there still isn’t a turtle on the beach by 11.30pm, it is not worth waiting any longer. Since we don’t directly approach the turtle after arrival, bear in mind it will always be around an hour later before you see the turtle.
On the beach: walking, waiting, watching, waving
When entering the beach, please follow the guide’s instructions at all times. We protect 2,5 km of beach, so sometimes we have to walk a fair bit. We wait at a safe distance (15m+) until the turtle is finished digging the nest and starts to lay her eggs – it is a bit of a patience game. Every turtle responds differently and it is not easy to predict how long she will take digging a nest, laying her eggs and covering them up.
We can come close to the turtle when she starts laying her eggs, because she enters a ‘trance’ and is not easily disturbed by us. Please follow the guide quietly and do not use your own torches. Do NOT use any flash when you want to take a picture. It is better to enjoy the experience since getting a good picture is very difficult. The guide will show you where to stand to get the best and safest view and see the eggs drop. Please do not stand in front of the turtle or near her head, and please move aside to let other visitors have a good view too. This part will usually take between 10 and 20 minutes, so you are only able to have a quick look.
Depending on the number of visitors, we will always try to split the group of tourists into smaller batches of 10 before getting close to the turtle. This is in the interest of the turtle but also to improve the experience of both visitors and staff. Please cooperate and wait again on safe distance after you have had a look.
When she is finished laying and starts to cover her nest, we can see the first stage of covering (max 5 mins.) but will soon move away again to safe distance. You are welcome to wait until she returns to sea. Depending on how much energy she has left, covering the nest and returning to sea can take between 30 and 180 minutes. When she goes back to sea we will then turn a red torch on again and you can watch her until she is swept away by the sea (still no flash photography!). Please stand behind the turtle (at least 2-3 meters) at all times to leave a clear path for her to the sea.
It is possible that the turtle fails to dig a nest, because the sand is either too wet or too dry or she stumbles upon too many roots or rocks. This happens in about 50% of the attempts. We call this a ‘False Crawl’. In that case she will not lay eggs, end her nesting process (without laying eggs), and return to sea – usually to try again either later that night or 24 hours later. When a false crawl happens, we can watch her return, always staying well behind the turtle’s head, forming half a circle with at least 2-3 meters of space between you and her.
When everyone follow these rules we can both protect the turtles while giving guests a chance to see this wonderful sight. We close the evening and beach around midnight, when we will ask everyone to leave. As turtle conservation comes first, we usually show only one turtle and leave the other turtles undisturbed – but this will be decided by the guide. It is rare to see hatchlings at the beginning of the night (they usually come out early mornings) and we prefer to leave them undisturbed, but you might be lucky.
PLEASE NOTE: Hospitality and tourist numbers
Kindly note and please remember this is a local community project, run by the nest protectors themselves, periodically assisted by volunteers. The local guides speak sufficient English, but most of the nest protectors do not. Therefore the Turtle Watches can be quite informal. All are knowledgable on turtles and their behavior and are happy to answer all your questions on turtles and their behavior. Please proactively approach our guides with your questions to have them answered!
Also, we (unfortunately) don’t have a booking system in place. That means that we don’t know the number of tourists coming to visit. During high tourist season (July – August, December – April), we might have evenings with more than 40 tourists. Please follow the instructions of our guides at all times. If possible (with two or more turtles on the beach), we try to split the group. If this is not possible, please remain calm and give all other visitors the chance to get a glimpse of this wonderful spectacle. The presence and support of tourists is very welcome, but we always try to put the interest of the turtle first. If everyone cooperates and we follow the rules above we will not disturb the turtle.