Family travel: 'Where can we see wild turtle hatchlings?'
Saturday 20 December 2008
Q. Our family would love to see turtle hatchlings in the wild. Do you have any idea of how far and when we would have to travel to be guaranteed to see them? We don't want there to be only "a good chance" of seeing them. L Baxter, via email
A. Witnessing the emergence of turtle hatchlings is one of nature's great treats. However, hatching takes place at different times depending on location. Furthermore, the exact time of hatching is hard to predict. With six of the seven species of marine turtle on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, you'll be hard pressed to find a destination that can absolutely guarantee you a sighting.
Since the world's best rookeries (nesting beaches) are found primarily in tropical regions, you'll most likely have to travel some distance for your holiday, so you're right to be choosy, but plan carefully and the odds are favourable.
To maximise your chances, head to a rookery during nesting season and hire a guide when you arrive. In Gabon, Central Africa, the Sea Turtle Trust (028 44 830537; seaturtletrust.org) works with Aventures Sans Frontières to protect leatherbacks at Pongara beach.
As one of the largest leatherback rookeries in the world – also home to nesting hawksbills, olive ridleys and green turtles – this is a hotspot for emerging hatchlings. Pongara, a national park, is just 11km across the Komo estuary from the capital, Libreville, which means it's easily accessible. However, many of the local hotels only open at weekends and the peak hatching season in February and March falls within the rainy season, which would potentially limit other activities.
Flights to Libreville are available from a host of UK airports via Paris with Air France (0870 142 4343; airfrance.co.uk). Alternatively, a tour operator such as Audley Travel (01993 838500; audleytravel.com) can tailor a personalised trip to Gabon for you.
A better bet for your family might be Rincó*Beach at Matura in north-east Trinidad.
Leatherback turtles nest here from the beginning of March to the end of August, each laying five to seven times during this period. Eggs incubate for about two months, so you could, with a guide, locate hatchlings any time between May and October.
The beach is a protected area and you will need a permit (T$10/£1) to access it. Both a permit and guide (US$10/£6.70) can be organised through Matura-based Nature Seekers (001 868 668 7337; natureseekers.org). You'd probably have to stay at least two weeks to maximise chances of a sighting, but in the meantime, Nature Seekers offers the chance to get involved in conservation work such as tagging.
Responsible Travel (01273 600030; responsibletravel. com) recommends a 13-day leatherback volunteer scheme in Matura, which starts at £1,195 per person, excluding flights. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Gatwick to Port of Spain via Barbados.
In Sri Lanka, the Marine Conservation Society (01989 566017; tiny.cc/s3QBY) runs a community-based protection scheme in Rekawa, on the south coast. To further recommend it, this unspoilt beach is where the BBC's Saving Planet Earth 2007 turtle documentary was filmed. Five species, primarily green and olive ridleys, come to nest on the beach here year-round, though activity peaks from April to June. Informed guides monitor when hatchlings are due (June to August) and the MCS suggests that even with only a few days here, you would be unfortunate not to get a sighting.
Book into a nearby hotel such as the luxurious Amanwella (00 91 47 224 1333; amaresorts.com) in Tangalle, around 20 minutes' drive from Rekawa; you can organise a guide directly from any of the hotels in town.
Alternatively, you can head straight for the beach at Rekawa, where the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) guides are constantly present (00 94 38 567 0168; email:email@example.com). Passes can be purchased from the TCP beach hut on arrival for Rs600 (£3.50).
A different approach is to take part in a short volunteer programme.
Many of these projects don't cater particularly well for families, but the Turtle Protection Organisation (contact Rainforest Concern UK: 020-7229 2093; turtle protection.org) is a notable exception. Its scheme in the Pacuare Nature Reserve, Costa Rica was set up to protect leather-backs. Work involves beach patrolling, tagging and disguising or even relocating nests to deter poachers.
The programme runs from mid-March to the end of September, but the Turtle Protection Organisation recommends May as the best month to see both hatchlings and adults.
A comfortable lodge has been set up here specifically for holidaying families, which is around a three-hour journey by bus and boat from the capital, San José. Prices start at $80 (£51) per person, full board including boat transportation from La Trocha. You can reach San José via Madrid with Iberia (0870 609 0500; iberia.com).
Turtle-focused adventure packages are also offered by operators such as Explore (0845 013 1537; explore.co.uk). Its 16-day Costa Rican rainforest tour combines visiting turtles at Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast with additional activities such as white-water rafting and snorkelling. The price, including return flights, transfers and accommodation starts at £1,943 per person.
If you want to avoid long-haul travel, consider Alagadi in northern Cyprus. The Marine Turtle Research Group (00 90 533 866 2860; seaturtle.org/mtrg) bases its studies here and organises hatchling releases and nest excavations between July and mid-September – coinciding with school summer holidays – which you can visit free of charge.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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