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The Rocky Southern Coast of Sri Lanka

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An unbroken string of tiny towns and hotels stretches out to the east of Galle. The busy road which hugs the coastline passes through Unawatuna, Dalawela, Thalpe, Habaraduwa, Midigama, one right after the other; each offering tourists an insane number of places to stay and things to do.

Sri Lanka Island

We were on this road constantly, en route to places like Alanthgama, where we hoped to see stilt fishermen, or Weligama. This village is set up around a gorgeous circular bay, with a lushly forested mini-island as its centerpiece named Trapobane (also the name Arthur C. Clarke lent Sri Lanka in The Fountains of Paradise). You can rent the villa on Trapobane by the day for an obscene amount of money; it even comes with a full set of personal servants to help you indulge your tackiest private-island fantasies.

Taprobane-Island

We spotted a couple other islands up and down the coast. One just past Midigama, where there’s supposed to be great surfing, and another in the bustling town of Matara, where we switched buses once. Matara’s island is just across from the bus station, and occupied by the picturesque Parey Duwa Buddhist temple.

Matar Temple Island

Most of the coast is rocky, but every so often you’ll spy a bit of golden sand that’s good for a dip. The waters here are rougher and rockier than on the beaches of Trinco, for example, but that makes for more dramatic scenery. Although the coastline itself is heavily developed, it stretches out for so long that finding a small bit of private sand isn’t impossible.

Daytime Turtle Watching

Our best day along the coast was spent at the Wijaya Beach Club, in Dalawela. Pizzas which could almost compete with those of Palermo (almost), and a tiny but excellent beach. While we ate, we watched the waves where six sea turtles were struggling to swim back out into the ocean. Every once in awhile, their heads would poke above the water. They kept getting swept toward the rocky shore, but eventually made their escape. Nobody else in the restaurant had seen them, and they all must have thought we were crazy, staring out into the ocean and randomly cheering.

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April 28, 2012 at 5:52 am Comments (3)

The Habaraduwa Turtle Hatchery

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Our Sea Turtle Excursion at Rekawa Beach

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most important breeding spots for the endangered sea turtle, but heavy development of the coast has contributed greatly to their ever-declining number. To combat that trend, a number of hatcheries have opened along the southern coast. We visited one in Habaraduwa.

Super-Cute-Turtle

The small hatchery, which cost 400 rupees per person, was split into a few sections. A curiously tiny patch of sand in the corner contained batches of eggs (or “clutches”). Each was labeled with the date they were laid, the number of eggs in the clutch, and the exact species. We were told that about one set of eggs hatches every day. I was surprised how tightly the clutches were placed next to each other.

The rest of the hatchery was occupied by a bunch of water tanks. In one, dozens of baby turtles swam clumsily about. They were cute, and would stay in captivity until their fourth day of life before being released into the ocean. Our guide explained that when they’re a bit older, their chances of survival increase dramatically.

Other tanks held injured turtles, including one I nicknamed “Stumpy”. A propeller had carved Stumpy’s right flipper clean off, and the poor guy could no longer submerge. Instead he floated around on top of the water, continually rotating his stump. Five other turtles which had been found clinging to life on the beach, including a couple impressively large specimens, swam about their tanks, recovering in the hatchery until they could be re-released.

The Habaraduwa Hatchery is a private enterprise, unaffiliated with any offical conservation organization. And it was impossible to ignore the disquieting possibility, or likelihood even, that it’s more interested in tourist dollars than protecting sea turtles. The cold reality is that private individuals are going out at night, digging up sea turtle eggs from the beach, bringing them to their property, and then charging tourists to see them.

Seaturtle.org has a comprehensive article on the pros and cons of Sri Lanka’s private hatcheries. The truth is, something has to be done to protect these beautiful, endangered creatures. And if the government won’t step in with an official and adequately enforced conservation effort, private hatcheries might be the next best thing. Yes, they might just want our cash, but this might be one of those rare instances when the interests of capitalism and conservation align. Ultimately, we enjoyed our trip here and felt that it was an enterprise worth tentative support.

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April 27, 2012 at 8:47 am Comment (1)
The Rocky Southern Coast of Sri Lanka An unbroken string of tiny towns and hotels stretches out to the east of Galle. The busy road which hugs the coastline passes through Unawatuna, Dalawela, Thalpe, Habaraduwa, Midigama, one right after the other; each offering tourists an insane number of places to stay and things to do.
For 91 Days