Turtle Spotting in the Similan Islands – different types of turtles

You can find different species of Turtles at the Similan islands and the Andaman coast.
History tells us that five of these species have been identified to be living in the Thai waters. However, the Loggerhead turtle at the Similan has not been seen in the last 15 years but the other ones that have been seen recently include:

The Green Turtle

green turtle
This turtle is seen sparsely around places in south China and Andaman Sea coasts, nesting in these places. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has listed them as globally threatened and as such, the International Law (CITES) and Thai Law protects them.

The Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turtle
These ones are often seen close to the off shore islands of the Andaman sea and the northern Gulf of Thailand. In IUCN’s Red List, they are listed as “Critically Endangered”. It is also listed in CITES, and therefore protected by Thai Law.

The Olive Ridley Turtle

Olive Ridley Turtle
Between 1985 and 2002, the three major nesting beaches witnessed a dramatic fall in their number of nests.
They are protected by Thai law and by CITIES because the IUCN listed them as “Endangered”.

Leatherback Turtle

Leatherback Turtle
This specie only nests on the Andaman Coast and has been endangered globally since 1970. In Thailand, it was listed as “Critically Endangered in 1996. It is also protected by Thai Law and listed in CITIES.
The sea turtle lives its entire life in water. It is a reptile so it therefore needs to go off water to breathe air at intervals. Note that if severely frightened by divers, they may drown.
The sea turtle’s life span is not particularly known but their growth is very slow. It may take up to 15 years for a sea turtle to reach maturity.

Loggerhead Turtle

Loggerhead turtle
Have not been seen for more than 15 years and is an endangered species.

Marine worms, sponges, and molluscs are some of the foods consumed by a sea turtle.

For instance, an adult Green turtle is majorly vegetarian; feeding on seaweed and underwater grasses, The Hawksbill turtle on the other hand is carnivorous and consumes animals of the coral reefs that are invertebrate

Along the quiet beaches of the gulf of guinea and Andaman sea coastline and islands lies the Thai water turtle distribution. The nesting times of the turtles are represented by these two geographical areas.

Green and hawksbill turtles both have their most important nesting areas to be Kram and the adjascent islands located on the inner gulf Chonburi provice all within the Gulf of Thai. Around Rayong, Chonburi and Trat Province as well as the middle Gulf of Chumphon and Surattani Province, along the east coasts are some islands where occasionally, sea turtles may be seen. All year round, especially from May to August, Hawksbay and Green turtles lay their eggs within the gulf areas.

The north-west coast of Phuket, and Phang-nga provinces in the Andaman Sea coastal areas are the major nesting areas of Thailand. Specifically, these areas are; Maikhao beach Phuket, Phrathong Islands and the Thai Muang Beach of Phang-nga Province, Tarutao and Adang-Rawi Islands of the province of Satun. Also found in these areas are the occasional leatherback turtles and the Olive ridleys are also seen. The hawksbill and green are seen at the Tarutao Islands, the Surin Islands and the Similan Islands. In the Andaman Sea region, the turtles at Similan islands nesting season occurs within October and March, having it peak period from mid-November to mid-January.
Between November and March, Turtles usually lay their eggs.

While the females have been seen to be nesting till dawn, they are seen ashore after dusk. They use their rear flippers to dig a pit just about 18 inches deep at the point they must have chosen as their nesting site. After they must have laid a clutch of about 40 to 180 eggs, they carefully and cautiously cover it up with sand then they return back to the sea. All these can be accomplished within just an hour. The turtle’s eyes will be covered by colourless mucus during the egg laying to prevent dehydration and keep out the sand grains.

Upon the conclusion of a 60-day incubation period, the hatchlings especially at night when the sand is cooler find their way to the surface. They find the edge of the water by orienting themselves to the horizon. however, lights from distant houses can disorient them making them crawl away from the sea.
Visited by liveaboards from Khao Lak, the Surin and Similan Islands National Parks are the best diving areas to see turtles.

Turtles at the Similans and Surin are majorly found in shallow reefs like East of Eden (Similans, Ko Payu) or (Surin) Ko Torinla, you may however have deeper observation on rocky sites like Deep Six (Similans, Ko Payu,) or Elephant Head Rock. Normally seen are the Green turtles and the Hawksbill.

The two major species of nesting turtles at Thai Muang beach (National Park) are the Olive Rideley and the Leatherback.
There is a 7 day event organized annually, normally by the first week of March. The aim is to return back to the sea the young turtle hatchlings raised by the Department of Fisheries.
Ultimately, it was established to increase awareness of people on the rate of decline of the nesting females as well as to promote their conservation.
His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyade and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit have together pioneered many projects on turtle conservation. For many years now, turtles have been protected legally.
The turtle conservation program in Thailand also employs the full services of the Royal Thai Navy to patrol the beaches in the Surin and Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea regularly, for poachers and intruders. Their tasks also include protecting the hawksbill and green eggs lay in the sand from predators like crabs and birds. Upon birth, the Navy is to bring the young turtles to the turtle protection centre run by the Navy in Phang-nga province where they are taken care of and released back into the sea after a period of six months.
The location Third Fleet Sea Turtle Nursery of the Royal Thai Navy is Thap Lamu (about 6 km south of Khao Lak). They receive Infant turtles from various areas on the Andaman coastline and nurse them till they are strong enough to cater for themselves. It is the most important turtle nursery on the Andaman coast.

It is highly unfortunate that even though sea turtles have been in existence for over 130 million years, we are experiencing a serious decline throughout most of the range of the 7 global species of Marine Turtles. Factors threatening their existence include; pollution, Habitat degradation, egg poaching and over-fishing among others.

On the 1st of March 2006, An International campaign was launched under the banner of “the Year of the Turtle 2006”, bringing together individuals from Iran to South Africa and Australia to Thailand. Highlighting the threats and soliciting for public support for the fascinating aquatic creature were some of the aims that the organizers hoped they will achieve. Personally, I think they should get as much help as possible.
Several volunteer groups and non-government organizations aiming at protecting sea turtles work in Thailand.

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