If you dive or spend enough time on secluded islands around the world, turtles are everywhere. Yet they die so easily, caught in fishing nets, used for food, have their eggs stolen and for whatever ends humans want them for. 😡 I wanted to see turtles at Ko Mun Nai's sea turtle sanctuary. (เกาะมันในเที่ยว เกาะมันใน ชมการอนุรักษ์เต่าทะเลในไทย, อีกทั้งยังเป็นสถานที่เพาะขยายพันธุ์เต่าทะเล) Haven't seen it and since the hotel concierge also promised me that I would "a zillion percent" be able to see adult and baby turtles, I was sold. 'Sea turtles' are pronounced in Thai as 'dao talaay' (เต่าทะเล). 🐢🐢🐢
Ko Mun Nai is a short 5-km ride away via speed-boat from our hotel. Visitors don't spoil it too much since we can't stay overnight (no fresh running on the island or electricity; except a generator to power work tools and for staff to use) or trample around the beaches where turtles come ashore to lay eggs. We aren't allowed into the hatchery lagoon either. Or Ko Kham (เกาะขามใหญ่, เกาะขามน้อย) where it's a protected military zone. CANNOT SEE CUTE HATCHLINGS. I was so pleased to note that there aren't any souvenirs or shops catering to tourists. Just the bare turtle preservation center with its tanks of adults and babies, and a spartan museum the size of a seminar room with outdated information. That's it.
Our hotel has an aquarium tank filled with fish, and two small sharks. They look like baby blacktip reef sharks... Some months there's a baby ray too. Apparently the resort releases them back into the ocean when they're bigger. Still!!! NOT IMPRESSED. I'm not hot about commercial aquariums or zoos, although I do see the argument on the premises of education, nurturing budding marine biologists and activists, and its ultimate aim of conservation. Well. Anyway, the point is to highlight that the sea turtles at Ko Mun Nai (เกาะมันใน) seem well taken care of and the whole thing doesn't feel like one big scam. Many years ago, friends (who are marine biologists in training back then) volunteered as caretakers at this particular sanctuary for up to a month, doing menial and crucial tasks of cleaning the tanks, feeding food and medicine. The turtles breed; some are injured or ill, so the island takes them in for a period. Most will be released back into the wild, and those that are too old/weak/injured get to stay.
Easily identifiable by their saw-like jagged shell margins, the endangered omnivorous Hawksbill turtles are most sought after for what else? Making tortoiseshell combs, plates and boxes. The endangered herbivorous Green turtles are so pretty! Their shells can be so light in an olive color or almost black. But their eyes are so emotive, or so I like to think. Hahaha. The sanctuary saves the carnivorous leatherbacks (or lute turtles) too. BUT, for a no-shell turtle (its carapace is covered by skin and oily flesh), leatherbacks are generally hardier and are released back into the sea asap. Do not touch the turtles. Also, they can easily chomp off your fingers. Turtles aren't that slow. Turtles in the water out-swim me any day.
My honest opinion- this is a sanctuary initiated by the now-84-yr-old Queen-Mother Sirikit in 1979; the current management (the Royal Navy does that since 2002) doesn't seem to bother that much about visitorship (which is a good thing I suppose). It does make me wonder where the funding comes from, and if the staff are sufficiently equipped to do what they do for the sea turtles. The museum needs to re-organize its displays, update them and put up better copy and perhaps offer more details on the turtles habitats in this region, what the center actually does or what it intends to achieve. The information is there, in the heads of the staff. A museum curator just needs to write them down into a coherent flow.
I dunno if there're trained guides who take people on this 'tour'. Those from the tour companies aren't ideal. The 'English-speaking guide' stated in the tour brochures cannot make it lah!!! WTF. At least our 'guide' was disappointing. My Thai is better than their English lor. At most they can re-tell some stories gleaned from the staff. The rest of these 'guides' only look after logistics and ferrying guests here and there. We were lucky to be able to chat with the staff who were more than happy to explain to us (in Thai) what the center does on a daily basis. Mainly- keep them hawksbills, greens and leatherbacks alive and healthy, what they eat and what the center does for them daily. They could even tell us which long-staying turtle has what traits, which are males or females. Now, that is the type of information I want to know.
|A curious Green Turtle.|