Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Sri Lanka pledges to protect sea turtles

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Sea turtle
The authorities are preparing new guidelines on turtle hatchery maintainance

The Sri Lankan government says that it is concerned about the welfare of sea turtles which live and breed on the island's southern coastline.

The authorities say turtle hatcheries are operating there which contravene conservation laws and that they will prosecute those people involved.

Sri Lanka is a vital habitat for sea turtles as five of the seven species come ashore here to lay their eggs.

Watching adult and newly-hatched turtles is also popular with tourists.

That seems to be contributing to the problems faced by these endearing reptiles.

The Sri Lankan Daily Mirror Online website says in a new report that hatcheries which use them for commercial or leisure purposes are harming the species.

Dead hatchling

Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka says that wildlife officers have informed all hatcheries that selling the turtles or using them as meat or for any other commercial purpose is illegal.

"They can only be used for educational purposes," he said. "We've investigated the illegal places and given them warnings not to do that."

Green Turtle
Green Turtles are one species found in Sri Lanka

Senior wildlife official Sarath Dissanayake told the BBC that turtle hatchlings should have the freedom to walk over the beach to the sea, but hatcheries were illegally putting walls and barriers in their way.

A tourist said he had recently been at a facility where guests were encouraged to pick up baby turtles and "set them free" into the ocean.

He said the place was like a zoo and that at least one hatchling appeared to be dead.

But one hatchery owner told the Daily Mirror Online he is protecting the animals, not profiting from them.

"They have asked us to hatch them on the beaches," he said, "but we can't do that.

"If we wanted to do that, we'd need at least 20,000 soldiers guarding these turtles, because people are hungry for them, most use them as meat."

But the authorities are not convinced. They are preparing new guidelines on how turtle hatcheries should be maintained and say that those who violate them will be prosecuted.

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