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Sadly, although sea turtles have lived on this planet for 130 million years, the 7 global species of Marine Turtles are all in serious decline throughout most of their range. Habitat degradation, pollution, egg poaching and over-fishing threaten to make them extinct.

An International campaign was launched on 1st March 2006, under the banner of the Year of the Turtle 2006, uniting peoples from Australia to Thailand and Iran to South Africa. The organisers hope to spotlight the threats and encourage even greater public support for these extraordinary marine creatures. Quite frankly they need all the help they can get.

Historically, five of these species have been found in Thai waters, although there have been no records of the loggerhead turtle in the last 15 years. The four species of marine turtles that can still be found in Thai waters are as follows:

The Green Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)

The green turtle is found in scattered areas in both the Andaman and South China Sea coasts, nesting in both areas. They are listed as globally threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and are protected by International Law (CITES) and Thai Law.
The Hawksbill Turtle
(Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbill turtles are found near off-shore islands in the coastal waters of the Andaman Sea, and the northern Gulf of Thailand. They are listed as "Critically Endangered" in IUCN's Red List. It is listed in CITES, and is protected by Thai Law.
The Olive Ridley Turtle
(Lepidochelys olivacea)

The number of nests on three major nesting beaches has declined dramatically between 1985 and 2002.

Olive Ridley's are listed as "Endangered" by IUCN, and are protected by CITES and Thai Law.
The Leatherback Turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea)

The leatherback is only known to nest on the Andaman Coast. The leatherback has been listed as globally endangered since 1970, and was confirmed as "Critically Endangered in Thailand" in 1996. It is listed in CITES, and is also protected by Thai Law.
The sea turtle is a reptile which spends all of its life in water. It obviously needs to go to the surface from time to time, to breathe air. Bear in mind they can actually drown if severly frightened by divers.
The natural longevity of the sea turtles is not entirely known, but they grow very slowly taking about 15 years to reach maturity.

The sea turtle's diet includes sponges, marine worms and molluscs.

Adult Green turtles for example are largely vegetarian, eating underwater grasses and seaweed, whilst the Hawksbill turtle is carnivorous and eats invertebrate animals of the coral reefs.

The distribution of turtles in Thai waters is spread out along the fine sand quiet beaches of the coastline and islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. These two geographical areas also reflect different nesting times of the turtles.

In the Gulf of Thailand the most important nesting areas for green and hawksbill turtles are Khram and adjacent islands which are located in the inner Gulf, Chonburi Province. There are some islands along the east coast from Chonburi, Rayong and Trat Province and some islands in the middle Gulf of Chumphon and Surattani Province where sea turtles are occasionally found. In the Gulf areas, green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs all year round with the peak from May to August.

In the Andaman Sea coastal areas of Thailand, the main nesting areas are north-west coast of Phuket, and Phang-nga provinces. In particular these areas include Thai Muang Beach and Phrathong Islands of Phang-nga Province, Maikhao beach Phuket, Tarutao Island and Adang-Rawi Islands of Satun Province . 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. 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.
Mai Khao beach and the northern end of the adjacent Nai Yang beach are the only beaches where turtles lay their eggs in Phuket . These two locations have a long natural deserted beach stretching more than 17km. They form part of the Sirinath National Park, which is a protected marine and coastal area.

This is a nesting area of the giant Leatherback Turtle, one of the world's most ancient species, ( known as Mafuang  in Thai ). These turtles on average weigh 450 kg. However, the Leatherback population is fast diminishing and its status is very critical. It is the only turtle without a true protective shell, though its outer protection is leathery scale-less skin - hence its name.

The breeding season of the turtles is November to February. At this time, environment groups and the local villagers of Mai Khao work very hard to protect the Leatherback's eggs. They take the eggs to their hatchery, where the baby turtles are protected from the vagaries of nature as well as human exploitation. During the breeding season, the local villagers patrol the beaches at night and keep records of the eggs that have been laid. Then in a special ceremony, on National Fisherman's Day ( 13th April, which coincides with the Songkran festival ), the hatchlings which were incubated in captivity are released into the sea.

The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation was launched in 2002 and raises funds and awareness for the plight of the critically endangered giant leatherback turtles that nest in the area. It also co-ordinates with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC). Email: info@maikhaoturtlefoundation.com

Mai Khao Turtle Foundation

Some environmentalists suggest that the immediate post-tsunami era may see a slight increase in returning turtles to these nesting areas in Phuket. The tsunami acted as nature's clean up operation.
Phuket turtle releasing events

Some large Phuket resorts have focused their attention on ensuring that turtles stand a chance of survival in the Phuket region.

Phuket's sea turtles are facing multiple threats and their numbers have severely depleted in recent years. Commercial fishing kills thousands of them every year. Many more die from eating or becoming trapped in plastic debris littering the ocean.

Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation and JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa organized the 3rd Mai Khao Turtle Release on 2nd March 2012, to raise funds and awareness for the plight of Phuket's critically endangered sea turtles.

Supported by the Phuket Marine Biological Center and the Royal Thai Navy, the event saw 70 green turtles released back into the Andaman Sea.

This year's turtle release marked the 10th anniversary of the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which was founded by JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa. Funds raised from the afternoon will be used by the foundation to support the valuable work of the Injured Turtle Rehabilitation Program (under the Phuket Marine Biological Center) and the Turtle Hatchery Program (under the Royal Thai Navy).

Phuket turtle releasing

The 18th Laguna Phuket Sea Turtle Release Ceremony was held on 18th March 2012.

The event saw turtles equipped with satellite tracking devices released into the ocean, thus helping to track their migration patterns and help to safeguard their futures.

The two year old turtles had little satellite transmitters glued onto their shells. For the next six months until the batteries run out, the turtles will transmit their movements in the sea for eight hours a day. By then the glue will also dissolve and the transmitters will at last be off their backs.

This ceremony has been taking place since 1994 to raise funds and awareness.

This is an on-going partnership with the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) and the Third Area Naval Command of the Royal Thai Navy. The funds will be used to build a roof over the disabled turtle habitat at the PMBC and also to buy food for the Navy's turtle nurseries.

Phuket turtle releasing

Turtles usually lay their eggs between November and March.

The females come ashore after dusk, but they have been observed nesting until just before dawn. They select their nesting site and dig a small pit 18 inches deep using their rear flippers. A clutch of between 40 to 180 eggs will be laid, after which the pit will be carefully concealed by sand before they return to the sea. The whole process usually takes about one hour. During the egg laying, the eyes of the turtle will be covered by a colourless mucus to prevent dehydration and keep out the sand grains.

After an incubation period of 60 days, the hatchlings dig their way up to the surface of the pit, usually at night when the sand is cooler. Hatchlings locate the water's edge by orienting themselves to the horizon, but distant house lights can disorient the youngsters so that they actually crawl away from the sea.
egg laying
The best diving areas to see turtles are the Similan and Surin Islands National Parks, visited by liveaboards from Phuket.

Turtles are most commonly seen in shallow reefs on dive sites such as East of Eden (Ko Payu, Similans) or Ko Torinla (Surin), but you may see them deeper on rocky sites such as Elephant Head Rock or Deep Six (Ko Payu, Similans). The usual sightings are Hawksbill and Green turtles.

At Thai Muang (National Park), north of Phuket, Leatherback and Olive Ridley are the two main species of nesting turtles.
There is an annual 7 day event here, usually during the first week of March, to release young turtle hatchlings, which have been raised by the Fisheries Deptartment, back into the sea.
This is designed to heighten people's awareness of the declining numbers of nesting females and promote conservation efforts.
Marine Turtles have been given legal protection in Thailand for many years, and His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyade and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit have initiated several specific turtle conservation projects.

The Royal Thai Navy has an active role in the turtle conservation program and regularly patrols beaches in the Similan and Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea, for intruders and poachers. They also protect the green and hawksbill eggs laid on the remote islands and keep them safe from predators such as birds and crabs. Once they are born, the turtles are brought to the Navy's turtle protection centre in Phang-nga province where they are nursed for another six months before being released into the sea.

There are several NGO's (non-government organisations) and volunteer groups working in Thailand with the aim of protecting sea turtles. Naucrates, for example, have greatly reduced egg poaching on the islands of Ko Phra Thong and Ko Khao, just north of Khao Lak.

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