Imagine an adorable fleet of tiny turtles flopping their way towards sea, leaving the beach behind them until their miraculously return, years later, to nest at the exact site of their birth. For lovers of nature and all things cute, witnessing a sea turtle hatch will be an unforgettable experience.
Yet, due to unsustainably developed coastlines, industrial fishing practices (in which turtles are accidentally netted), poaching, climate change, water pollution and the consumption of turtle meat and eggs, nearly all seven species of sea turtles have become highly endangered. Only 1 in 5000 baby sea turtles will live to be adults.
Plan your trip during the destination’s hatching season, but remember there’s no guarantee you’ll actually see a hatching. It’s no different than trying to guess the moment an egg in a birds nest will hatch – nearly impossible, even for conservationists. However, volunteering with a turtle conservation project will greatly improve your chances.
Remember: Never search for sea turtles without a guide. Never take any flash photography, or shine light without a red-filter on them. Mothers are easily disturbed when nesting. Don’t be part of the problem. Give them their space.
1. Palau Tioman, Malaysia
The situation of turtles in Malaysia has been dire for quite some time, particularly on the paradisiacal-looking island of Pulau Tioman. Despite this, the dedicated volunteers at the Juara Turtle Project have done an exceptional job at improving their numbers through nest protection, working with local communities, research, education and outreach. But they’re still fighting the good fight every day, especially against beach development by resorts.
An easy drive and ferry ride from both Singapore and Johor Bahru, the Juara Turtle Project offers affordable and accessible single and group volunteer experiences for turtle hatching and conservation.
2. Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
When an area’s name literally translates as “region of turtles”, you know you’re in the right place. Just 80km north of Port of Limon, on the palm-lined Caribbean coast, this is one of the most important nesting sites in the western hemisphere. Here, giant leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles all find roost.
A variety of turtle experiences can be booked through the park, whereas the Sea Turtle Conservancy group offer volunteer adventures in the area. Keep in mind that turtles nest on both coasts of Costa Rica. Check out Osa Conservation’s volunteer program on the country’s Pacific side.
Hatching seasons: Caribbean coast: July to October and March to May. Pacific coast: October to February and July to November.
3. Kosgoda, Sri Lanka
Green sea turtles are the most common species on the sandy shores of Sri Lanka. Four other species of turtle nest here as well, but due to their dwindling numbers are, sadly, a rare find.
The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project has run a rustic but vital hatchery in the area since 1988, and has been especially hard at work to protect nesting grounds since the devastation of the tsunami in 2004.
4. Greece and the Greek Islands
While the status of sea turtles in the Mediterranean might not seem so dire as in other regions, rampant tourist development and net-fishing still threaten populations. Think it’s time to turn that Greek beach vacay you’ve been planning into a volunteer trip?
Organisations such as Archelon work to ensure the conservation of turtles at numerous sites of coastal Greece and its islands, graciously offering a less-intensive conservation work to sunbathing ratio for a variety of volunteers (part-time, full-time, individuals, families and large groups).
Hatching season: August to October.
5. Ras Al Jinz, Oman
Near the authentic fishing village of Ras Al Jinz, this area of the Arabian Sea is world-renowned for its endangered green turtle nesting grounds.
Oman’s eco-tourism project at Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve, does its best to help tourists witness a hatching, while ensuring that human induced threats are controlled. The centre also offers visitors guided night trips in hopes of witnessing a nesting.
6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This popular beach resort is also a turtle-watching hot spot, with a number of conservation organisations offering turtle tours, with controlled release of hatchlings most nights during peak season.
Hatching season: July to September.
7. Iztuzu, Turkey
Situated on a narrow strip of strip of sand separating the fresh water of Turkey‘s Daylan River from the Mediterranean, this landscape is worth a visit in itself – though Iztuzu is commonly called “Turtle Beach” for a reason.
Almost bulldozed in the name of mass tourism during the 1980s, the Kaptan June Turtle Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation has not only won hard-fought battles against development to ensure the safety of loggerhead sea turtle nesting grounds. It’s also succeeded in making Iztuzu Beach a much loved eco-tourist attraction, great for travellers of all ages.
8. Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Coastal Mozambique is a gorgeous and extremely important site of marine biodiversity that is, regrettably, under great threat.
For anyone looking for a deeper engagement with marine life than simply a visit to a conservation center, Underwater Africa offers volunteer experiences ranging for 4–16 weeks. From turtle walks to scuba dives, volunteering in Mozambique is a great way to spur a passion for ocean conservation in Africa and at large.
Hatching season: December to March.
9. Port Barton, Philippines
The Philippines‘ tranquil turquoise waters of Port Barton are a great place to kick back and see some turtles in action. Whether you’re snorkeling in “Turtle Bay” or viewing a hatchling release at the nearby Secret Paradise Marine Sanctuary, it’s an easy place to satisfy that turtle-watching fix.