1000x430_green turtle_William van de Wouw

Wakatobi’s Turtle Nursery

Published June 12, 2014 in CONSERVATION, Habitat, MARINE LIFE, RESORT

When Mother Nature needs a bit of help, Wakatobi’s caring staff play surrogate parent to sea turtles.

Sea Turtles can live to be 100 years old, but most don’t survive their first few days. In the wild, the tiny hatchlings typically encounter a gauntlet of predators as they hatch and make their way from beachside nests to open water, and they remain especially vulnerable those first few months of life. When nature is in balance, this attrition is a normal part of the circle of life. But when turtles become threatened by factors such as habitat loss, or predators like fish and birds, they may need a little extra help to maintain a normal population. This is where Wakatobi Dive Resort has stepped in.

A baby turtle cruises in the open ocean. With the help of caring staff and a dedicated turtle nursery, we now offer these tiny mariners a better chance for survival. Photo by Walt Stearns

A baby turtle cruises in the open ocean. With the help of caring staff and a dedicated turtle nursery, we now offer these tiny mariners a better chance for survival. Photo by Walt Stearns

A head start for turtles

“We’re delighted at finding more and more female sea turtles crawling up onto Wakatobi’s beach at night and laying eggs,” said nursery caretaker Sayafrin.

For the past couple years we have continued to witness increasing numbers of adult turtles on the surrounding reefs, and particularly on the House Reef at Wakatobi. And we’re delighted at finding more and more female sea turtles that make their way onto the beach at night to lay eggs. One might conclude that due to the decline in habitat elsewhere, combined with Wakatobi’s ongoing protective measures for our waters, the turtles are coming here to find the environment they need to thrive. Therefore, we put a head start program into place and built a turtle nursery, which is managed by resort staff, to help give these tiny ancient mariners a better chance at survival in the wild.

The primary caretaker for the turtle nursery is Sayafrin (above at the nursery), who started out as a dive assistant and is now one of the resort’s supply managers. Photo by Didi Lotze

The primary caretaker for the turtle nursery is Sayafrin (above at the nursery), who started out as a dive assistant and is now one of the resort’s supply managers. Photo by Didi Lotze

For the past couple years we have continued to witness increasing numbers of adult turtles on the surrounding reefs, and particularly on the House Reef at Wakatobi. Photo by Didi Lotze

For the past couple years we have continued to witness increasing numbers of adult turtles on the surrounding reefs, and particularly on the House Reef at Wakatobi. Photo by Didi Lotze

The same white sand beach that resort guests enjoy are also used by momma sea turtles, who come ashore under the cover of darkness to dig nests and bury a clutch of eggs in the sand, such as this large green female. Photo by David Evison

The same white sand beach that resort guests enjoy are also used by momma sea turtles, who come ashore under the cover of darkness to dig nests and bury a clutch of eggs in the sand, such as this large green female. Photo by David Evison

Each night, the Wakatobi security team patrols the beach looking for signs of new nests, such as the area shown here in front of Villa One. Photo by Didi Lotze

Each night, the Wakatobi security team patrols the beach looking for signs of new nests, such as the area shown here in front of Villa One. Photo by Didi Lotze

Recently we are finding more and more female sea turtles laying eggs on Wakatobi’s beach at night. Using their hind flippers, they will dig a circular hole in the sand (typically 40 to 50 centimeters (16 to 20 in) deep). Afterward, the female fills this hole, or nest, with a clutch of soft-shelled eggs – one by one until she has deposited around 50 to 200 eggs, depending on the species. Some species, like the hawksbill turtle, have been reported to lay 250 eggs. Once the eggs are layed, she re-fills the nest with sand, smoothing the surface until it is relatively undetectable visually. The whole process takes thirty to sixty minutes. She then returns to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended.

we put a head start program into place and built a turtle nursery, which is managed by resort staff, to help give these tiny ancient mariners a better chance at survival in the wild.

When the Wakatobi security team patrols the beach at night they look for signs of new nests. When one is discovered, a small fence is erected around the nest site to stop people from accidentally walking over it and to keep would-be predators out. The fences remain in place until after the baby turtles hatch, which could take from 45 to 70 days, depending on nest conditions and temperature. Once the hatchlings emerge from their shells they make their way to the surface.

As hatchlings emerge from their shells, they instinctively dig their way to the surface.  Photo courtesy Wakatobi Dive Resort

As hatchlings emerge from their shells, they instinctively dig their way to the surface. Photo courtesy Wakatobi Dive Resort

Baby turtles will typically make a mad dash for the water once they have dug themselves out of the sand. Photo courtesy Wakatobi Dive Resort

Baby turtles will typically make a mad dash for the water once they have dug themselves out of the sand. Photo courtesy Wakatobi Dive Resort

The nursery holding tank is divided into two sections, with one half reserved for the smallest turtles, which are only 5 to 6cm long when they hatch. Photo by Didi Lotze

The nursery holding tank is divided into two sections, with one half reserved for the smallest turtles, which are only 5 to 6cm long when they hatch. Photo by Didi Lotze

Under normal circumstances, once the baby turtles have succeeded in digging themselves out of the sand, they make a mad dash for the ocean and do not slow down until they hit open water. However, at this time their life faces its greatest perils – from a gauntlet of predators in the sand (like crabs and lizards) to birds in the air (seabirds and wading birds), and fish on the reef. But those slated for Wakatobi’s nursery will take a different path.

Once signs of a hatch are noted, the tiny turtles are collected as soon as they emerge, and moved to the holding tanks. The Wakatobi nursery was created when a former greenhouse near the staff quarters was fitted with a large water tank with a seawater circulation system. The tank is divided into two sections, with one half reserved for the smallest turtles, which are only 5 to 6cm long when they hatch. The youngsters are fed a diet of salad, seagrass and a little raw fish. Water is changed regularly to keep the tanks clean, and they are moved to the other half of the tank as they grow. In all, they are kept for about a year.

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