Visit to Rekawa Beach to See Leatherback and Green Turtles
We walk into the courtyard. About 40 people are sitting around in folding chairs. We were greeted by Saman, a tall, gruff man who has spent 20+ years protecting the giant leatherback and green turtles of Rekawa. On the floors are crude paintings of different kinds of turtles that visit Rekawa to deposit their eggs. Many people go to a turtle hatchery to see baby turtles, but we were determined to go to the beach and see it live.
Rules to Protect Turtles
“Here are the rules. Only red lights. The turtles can’t see that range very well. No flash photography. Stand 10 meters away from the turtles when they are digging the egg chamber. Don’t stand in front of a turtle. Only behind. Sit over there. I’ll tell you if the turtles arrive.”
It is 8:30 pm.
Waiting and Waiting for the Green Turtles
At 9:15pm, “A green turtle has come on the beach. Pay now,” says Saman. Everyone lines up to pay the 1,000 rupees (about $8). Saman then leads us on to the dark beach. There are a million stars above us but no moon. It’s balmy. We walk very quietly in darkness except for a few red flashlights and in anticipation of seeing one of these giant green turtles lay eggs.
When we arrive 15 minutes later, Saman announces, “She is still digging. Wait here. Stay 10 meters away. No lights.”
30 minutes pass. The waves crash against the shore. People clump in groups, talking quietly, reading their phones. Some get tired and sit on the sand.
“She’s now digging the egg chamber-75 centimeters. It takes about 20 minutes.”
15 minutes pass.
Collapse of Egg Chamber
“The egg chamber has collapsed. She’ll probably go back to the sea. Make two lines so she can pass. Wait. Looks like she’s going to try again. Right there. Back up. Stay 10 meters away. No flash. No white light.”
It’s now 10:30pm. We’ve been on the beach for 2 hours and everyone is worried that we won’t get to see the green turtle lay her eggs. The tide is also coming in, closer and closer to us.
45 minutes pass.
“She’s done with the egg chamber. She started to lay eggs. Line up 10 at a time. First ten follow me.”
Watching the Green Turtle Lay Eggs
Relief and excitement ripple through the group.
We stand behind the turtle peering into the hole. Can’t see anything. Saman points a red light and we move slightly to the right. Under the red light we see white eggs the size of ping pong balls. It’s amazing to see. This green turtle is about 40 years old, three feet long and is laying more than 100 eggs.
After everyone has seen the turtle, we all go back up and stand behind to watch.
Burying the Eggs
She finishes laying eggs and now starts to cover the eggs with sand. She will now spend 1+ hours completely covering the hole she has dug. We watch as she pushes sand with her front and back flippers. She throws sand 5-6 feet with her front flippers. Some of it lands on us. The eggs are covered and she continues to cover the entire hole. Flip, flip, flip, flip with the front flips. Moving dirt around with back flippers. Then rest for a moment. Inching forward as more of the hole is filled. It’s now 11:30pm and we begin to think about going back. Some people have already drifted off.
We start walking. 200 meters away we come upon another Green turtle laying eggs. She has just started. Saman shows us an egg. We watch for a moment then keep walking the kilometer back. Quietly and excited about the evening’s activities and ready for sleep.
But we’re not done yet.
We come upon a third green turtle. She’s magnificent. Almost 60 years old and 5 feet long. The largest and oldest turtle we’ve seen. She’s already finished laying eggs and is filling the hole. Flip, flip, flip. Pause. Flip, flip, flip.
All three will likely be back in 2 weeks to deposit another batch of 100+ eggs. Next time, maybe there will be leatherbacks as well.
We continue our walk home and the 30 minute drive back to the hotel. Tired and excited about what we’ve seen.
For more on our Sri Lanka Adventure, Read about our experience of Poya Day at Anuradhapura.