The Great Turtle Project – A Typical Day In The Life Of A Volunteer

The Great Turtle Project – A Typical Day In The Life Of A Volunteer

Posted by Demi Augustou on 7th Jul 2018

Last month, one of our wonderful volunteers visited The Great Turtle Project in Sri Lanka and was able to document their entire experience from start-to-finish. From incredible photos of newly-born baby sea turtles to successful beach cleanups, as well as rare videos of fully-grown Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles - it can all be seen, right here! What’s more, this has been exclusively documented so you can read it here first! So, let's jump in and take a look at the amazing adventures that await a conservation volunteer...

Turtle Hatcheries The Great Turtle Project in Sri Lanka

8:30am – Midwifery

It’s an early start and after a quick fruity breakfast, it’s time to head out into the already sweltering Sri Lankan heat. Across the road to the beach – the setting of The Great Turtle Project – and the first stop for the day is the protected hatchery plot to see if any newly hatched turtles have surfaced. Today we are lucky, around 30 green turtles have hatched and surfaced overnight after spending 2 months underground. It’s time to collect them up into buckets and carefully place them into their water tanks.

Burying Turtle Eggs The Great Turtle Project Sri Lanka

9:00am – Buried Treasure

In Sri Lanka, 20 Rupees equates to around 9p. This is all that it costs to purchase a turtle egg – sourced from the local fishermen who keep their eyes on the turtles when going up and down the beaches every day. This is a successful exchange at The Great Turtle Project and we have a bucket of hopeful eggs (53 rare Olive Ridley turtle eggs in particular) to bury after the midwifery duties. However, digging a hole in 30-degree heat is no easy feat - with an approximate depth requirement of 70cm – it’s a time-consuming task, to say the least! Each egg is then delicately placed in a pile at the bottom of the hole. As turtle eggs are very soft, to the point where the gentle touch of our fingers is enough to leave a compression dent on every egg we handle – it is essential that we continue to be gentle when re-filling the holes with sand.

Holding Stores And Feeding Hawksbill and Loggerhead Sea Turtles at The Great Turtle Project Sri Lanka

10:00am – Feeding and Cleaning

Now that the excitement of the earlier duties is over, it’s time to ensure that our reptilian friends are living comfortably. We prepare fishy food for the turtles while we pump water from the sea into the holding stores, once the holding stores are ready, we take each turtle individually (or in pairs) and move them to the holding stores so we can feed them and check for injuries. Whilst away from their normal tanks, we are able to scrub the tanks down (if necessary). Thankfully, we are under shade for this period – it is sweaty work! Not only do we have the babies to look after, but there are a number of turtle resident adults on-site, who are either at risk if released – for example, our turtle with just three flippers! – or are kept for research purposes. We have fully-grown Hawksbill, Green, Olive Ridley and Loggerhead turtles. Adults are not only large and heavy but can also pack a nasty bite. Transporting them from tank to tank must be done carefully, both for the safety of the turtle and the safety of our fingers!

11:00am – Visiting Hours

While we are ensuring that our turtles are well-fed, both tourists and locals alike are showing up at the entrance to see what The Great Turtle Project is all about. It is great to see people - from the local area in particular - showing an interest in learning about these endangered animals and how they can be better protected. We discuss the various ages and species of turtles, their dietary habits as well as how we can all help to raise global awareness of the problems that these beautiful creatures face daily. Our guests are interested and engaged – giving us that glimmer of hope that we can save turtles from eventual extinction.

Beach Cleanup in Sri Lanka The Great Turtle Project

11:45am – Beach Clean Up

The wind, tunnelling crabs and overnight rain, have made the sandy ground both uneven and littered with debris. It’s time to grab our wooden brooms and make the site look fresh and tidy once more. First impressions really do count so after 30 minutes of sweeping and collecting up rubbish, the site is transformed back to its former glory. No doubt the local hermit crabs and imminent rain shower will soon give us more work to do tomorrow morning!

Curry and Beach in Sri Lanka The Great Turtle Project

12:30pm – Curry Stop

Back across the road we go and it’s time for a delicious traditional meal – a Sri Lankan chicken curry, with rice, mixed vegetables, dhal, and plenty of water and fruit juice! It’s hard-earned and nice to relax for a period of time. Depending on exactly what has happened in the morning, chances are you are covered in a lot of sand, seawater and dust – so it may be worth taking a quick shower before lunch! Free time extends beyond lunch for a while too so opting for a quick power-nap isn’t a bad idea - especially as the day is still young!

2:00pm – Garbage Patch

The second half of the day begins and depending on the day of the week, there are several options as to what you can be doing. The regular duty is to walk the beach and collect plastic – unfortunately, the Indian Ocean is severely littered with plastic waste – be it bottles, wrappers, or even holidaymakers’ flip-flops. The extent of the issue is apparent not only when walking the beach, but even on approach to Colombo Airport, where litter trails from neighbouring India are evident even from several thousand feet in the air. Locals often help which is great to see. Alternatively, as native English speakers, you may find yourself heading to a local school to teach young children basic English words and numbers – an experience not to be missed! Spending time with the children and educating them is such a rewarding experience, it is worth every second. 

Sunset in Sri Lanka The Great Turtle Project

6:00pm – Freedom

The sun is slowly setting out to the west of the Indian Ocean and as the baby turtles are always seeking the light, it is the perfect time to release the baby Green turtles from earlier in the week. The turtle hatchlings are deemed ready for life in the wild just after a mere 5 days! Not forgetting that it does take time, the baby turtles need to eat to grow big and strong in order to be able to bear the extreme currents of the ocean. Sadly, survival rates of turtle hatchlings upon reaching the ocean are pretty low - with only 1 in 10 making it to adulthood! Thankfully, breeding in captivity increases the number of hatchlings making it to the ocean from 70% to 91%. As the day draws to a close, we load our small buckets with 10 hatchlings each and head out of the back gate to the shore. We place each turtle individually on the beach, 10ft from the ocean and watch them make their own way to their new home. The hard work is immediately repaid as you watch each baby slowly vanish away into the waves to start its own life where it belongs…

Feel inspired to volunteer after reading this? Take a look at our website to find out how you can become a volunteer and aid conservation on The Great Turtle Project.

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