Sea turtles are amazing creatures! You can see and take care of them right here in Khao Lak, at the Turtle Conservation Center in Lam Kaen, 15 minutes South of La On – Khao Lak Center (see GMap).
Why do they need caretaking? You might ask. Well, although sea turtles have lived on this planet for approximately 130 million years, most species are in decline. Habitat degradation, pollution, egg poaching, and over-fishing threaten to make them extinct.
The sea turtle spends its life in water. It needs to go to the surface from time-to-time, to breathe air.
Sea turtles grow very slowly, taking about 15 years to reach maturity. We do not know the exact natural longevity of sea turtles, but they can live 50 years or longer!
What sea turtles can be found in Thailand?
4 out of 7 global marine turtle species swim in Thai waters. They are:
- The Green Turtle
- The Hawksbill Turtle
- The Olive Ridley Turtle
- The Leatherback Turtle
They are all protected under the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and Thai Law.
What do sea turtles eat?
People often think that all sea turtles eat only one thing – jellyfish. However, their diets are much more diverse and depend on the species of sea turtle.
The Green Turtle likes algae, seagrasses, and seaweed. The Hawksbill turtle dines almost exclusively on sponges. The Olive Ridley turtle likes crabs, shrimp, lobster, sea urchins, jellies, algae, and fish. Lastly, the Leatherback turtle enjoys soft-bodied invertebrates like jellies, tunicates, and sea squirts.
Sea turtles do not have teeth to help them eat; instead, they have keratinous beaks with varying structures to accommodate their diets.
Unfortunately, sea turtles don’t always eat what they should. For leatherback sea turtles, in particular, plastic waste is incredibly dangerous.
How and where do sea turtles mate?
Mating happens on the surface or underwater. The male sea turtle climbs onto the female turtle’s back and holds on with the sharp claws of his front flippers. The way he hooks on to the edge of the female’s shell often results in a scratched shell and bleeding wounds in the soft parts of her body.
Male sea turtles have very long tails while female sea turtles have short tails. The male’s penis is located in his cloaca. He reaches his tail underneath the posterior end of the female’s shell to inseminate her cloaca.
How and where around Khao Lak do sea turtles lay their eggs?
Nesting female sea turtles emerge from the sea to use the beaches to lay their eggs. Once a site is chosen, the female turtle uses her flippers to dig a vase-shaped hole, and then lays her eggs. A nesting female will lay multiple nests per nesting season.
Most nesting sea turtle species come ashore at night, alone, and often during high tide.
The temperature of the sand where hatchlings nest determines the sex of a hatchling. Nests incubating at cooler temperatures often produce males, while nests incubating at warmer temperatures often produce females.
The number of eggs in a nest, called a clutch, varies by species. The smallest clutches are laid by Flatback turtles, approximately 50 eggs per clutch. The largest clutches are laid by hawksbills, which may lay over 200 eggs in a nest.
Once a nest has been completed, the female never returns to it. The eggs and resulting hatchlings are left to fend for themselves and locate the water upon emerging.
Sea turtles are “phototactic,” meaning that they are attracted to light. They are guided by the brightest light, which is usually moonlight reflecting on the sea.
The main nesting areas near Khao Lak are the northwest coast of Phuket and Phang-nga provinces. In particular, these areas include Thai Muang Beach (South of Khao Lak), Phra Thong Island (North of Khao Lak), and Maikhao beach in Phuket. Olive ridley and (occasionally) leatherback turtles are found in these areas. The green and hawksbill are found at the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, and Tarutao Islands.
When is the nesting season?
The nesting season of sea turtles in the Andaman Sea region occurs only from October to March with a peak from mid-November to mid-January.
What is the best way to see sea turtles in Khao Lak?
The best and most certain way to enjoy these amazing creatures is to visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Center at the Navy base in Taplamu. Further down south, you can go to the Turtle Sanctuary at the Coastal Fisheries and Development Centre in Thai Muang town (see GMaps)
The best diving areas to see turtles are the Similan and Surin Islands National Parks, visited by liveaboards from Khao Lak. You can conveniently book quality snorkeling or diving tours here at low prices.