Image via Ben Almen on flickr.
Note: This article focuses solely on centres that hatch sea turtles and not on those that rehabilitate injured ones.
On paper, sea turtle hatcheries sound fine. They are designed to help boost sea turtle populations by removing eggs that are at risk from their environment and placing them in a hatchery. As such, you might feel tempted to visit one while on holiday. However, the truth is that sea turtle hatcheries should only be used as a last resort when trying to “save the turtles.” Why is this? Well, let’s look at why sea turtle hatcheries aren’t always so good and what you can do to protect sea turtles.
Simply put, sea turtle hatcheries are difficult to do right. There is much more to raising a sea turtle egg than just burying it in sand. One must consider the temperature of the sand, the location of the hatchery, its hygiene standards, the delicate process of moving the eggs, and more. Alongside this, sea turtle eggs must be placed out of reach of flooding and be supervised to prevent theft by other species or humans. With all these factors to take into account, incubating sea turtle eggs can be quite a challenge.
Things worsen exponentially when the facility is trying to profit more from the involvement of tourists than actually helping sea turtles. For one, they may allow tourists to handle sea turtles for photos. This may sound okay, but being held is very stressful for a sea turtle. Handling wild animals or eggs should only be done with gloves and proper training. Worse yet, they may be kept in tanks for long periods of time. How long? Weeks, months, or even years, especially to be looked at by tourists. Tanks are super-spreaders for diseases, which can then be transmitted to wild sea turtles once the hatchlings are released. Plus, there are other ways of protecting sea turtles, such as protecting their habitat, reducing bycatch, and boat strikes.
However, depending on the circumstances, a sea turtle hatchery may be necessary for the survival of sea turtles in the local area. If sea turtle eggs are at risk of being harmed by poachers, pollution, flooding, or predation, then placing the eggs in a hatchery is a viable option. Really, it is about checking whether a sea turtle hatchery is legitimate before going.
How can you tell if a sea turtle hatchery is legitimate? There are a few key identifiers. Firstly, the sea turtle hatchery must not allow tourists to touch sea turtles with their bare hands. They have to be wearing gloves, and volunteers must undergo training before interacting with the sea turtles or eggs. The sea turtles cannot be kept in tanks either; instead, they must be carefully monitored by other means.
Aside from this, a few other ways in which you can help sea turtles include avoiding items made from sea turtles, reducing plastic waste, consuming less marine life (or consuming it sustainably), and when on vacation, filling in any holes that you have dug out at the beach and removing any items you have put on the beach afterwards.