Diving with Turtles in Thailand
Sea Turtles have been living in our oceans for more than 100 million years with some species surviving the mass extinction event which wiped out 90 percent of life on earth. The bodily functions of sea turtles are very slow, so they do not need a lot of energy to keep going and this may have helped in their survival.
Most Turtle species can live for around 30-50 years and some that may be more than 100 years old. There have even been claims of turtles living for several hundred years, although this would be very difficult to prove.
How long can a Turtle remain underwater? At rest, turtles can slow their heart rate down and stay submerged for 5 or 6 hours, but, if they are agitated in any way then they will need to surface for air very quickly. Usually, they take a couple of breaths and dive straight back down again. If a turtle becomes trapped in a fishing net it may become stressed out and even drown.
One of the most endangered Sea turtles is the Kemp’s Ridley which is also the smallest of the turtle species. The largest and strongest are leatherback turtles which can grow up to almost 2 meters in length. They are able to swim further and dive deeper than any other turtle species. The leatherback turtle can even eat the dangerous Box Jellyfish as it is unaffected by its stinging tentacles.
Hawksbill Turtles mainly eat lots of sponges as well as crustaceans, and jellyfish, Green sea turtles prefer to graze on seagrasses which are very important for the ecosystem and are homes to many marine species that live amongst them.
Sea turtles can travel a thousand miles or more back to their original breeding grounds and the female will return to the same beach where she was hatched. Some species have been tracked by satellite and have shown to cross entire oceans. How do they travel such great distances and find their way back to their original breeding grounds, we can only guess but It has been suggested that they use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Male turtles have no need to exit the water and will most likely spend their entire life in the ocean.
The female Turtle will dig a small depression on the beach where she will lay her eggs and then cover them with sand before returning to the ocean. The eggs will remain buried in the shallow sandpit for around 2 months. The sex of the turtle depends on the temperature of the sand. If the clutch of eggs is deposited in a warm sandy area then it usually results in female offspring, but if the sand is of a cooler temperature then the baby turtles will mostly emerge as males. The hatching process usually occurs at night, when there are not as many predators hanging around.
Hawksbill Turtles can lay more than 100 eggs at a time and they will usually all hatch about the same time. As the first baby turtle breaks free of its shell it will disturb the other eggs as it clambers over them and causing them to also start hatching. Usually, the baby turtles will all emerge from their nest together, digging their way through the sand and scampering across the beach to the ocean. The ones that make it will still have many years ahead before they are fully grown and most of them will not survive this period. Scuba divers rarely sight juvenile turtles, so they must be very well hidden during the first few years of their life. A turtle will have to survive at least 10 years before it reaches maturity, and begin its migration. It is estimated that only one in one thousand turtle eggs will make it from hatching all the way to adulthood.
Turtles in Thailand
There are 7 species of sea Turtles in Thailand and 2 of these, The Green sea turtle and the Hawksbill turtle can be found breeding at Khram Island near Pattaya. Scuba divers regularly spot turtles at every dive site in the Pattaya area and many are seen at the same place on a regular basis. The Turtle may be resting under a coral overhang or sleeping beneath a table coral. At Koh Krok island near Pattaya, there are 3 or 4 Turtles that hang around the shallow reef dive site with the largest ones at the same location almost every day.
Over the years, Sea turtle numbers have been dropping because of human damage to coastal habitats, polluting the ocean and in some countries, poachers will hunt them for their meat or eggs.
Thailand has very good turtle conservation programs running at various locations around the country. The Turtle breeding areas and beaches like the one at Khram island, near Pattaya, are very well protected by the Royal Thai Navy. When the turtles are hatched the Navy conservation team will take them to a holding area and feed them until they are strong enough to make their journey out into the ocean.
There are now many turtle projects and conservation areas around the world that are looking out for these amazing and beautiful creatures. If you have ever been scuba diving and observed a sea turtle in its natural environment, it is truly an amazing experience, but of course, everybody loves a turtle.