There are eight species of sea turtle found worldwide, of which five live in the waters around Phuket. Once plentiful, unfortunately their numbers have decreased due to human activities, plus the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 had further significant impact on sea turtle populations.
Thankfully, the government of Thailand and JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa have come together with a brilliant eco-program to bring the sea turtle populations back.
I caught up with Sean Panton, director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for the Marriott Group in Thailand, whose foundation has taken amazing steps towards the conservation and care of sea turtles.
At the Mai Khao Marine Foundation, located at JW Marriott Phuket Spa and Resort, disabled sea turtles that would not survive in the wild are taken care of. These turtles are also used for educational purposes, to teach guests about the species and their environmental needs. The foundation raises funds for the turtle release program, which releases 500 turtles a year and has become the most significant way of raising the sea turtle population numbers in the area.
Panton told us there are now about 150-200 turtle nests on the beaches in Phuket, which is a significant increase from years gone by. Schoolchildren who snorkel around the area also report seeing sea turtles in the water, which is a sure sign of increasing turtle numbers.
After visiting the Mai Khao Marine Foundation at JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa, we travelled over to the Phuket Marine Biological Center to see the turtle recovery and release program in action. The center takes steps to rehabilitate injured and disabled turtles, and I met with Chawanya Chiakyathanyu (nicknamed Pear), the centre’s veterinarian, to talk to her about the release program. I was given the unique opportunity to assist, and I felt so privileged to be part of it.This program is such great news for the future for these beautiful creatures.
It’s quite a process preparing a turtle for release. After draining the turtle’s tank of water, check-ups are performed on the turtle to make sure it is fit, healthy and ready for release. This involves weighing the animal and taking blood samples.
I helped Pear prepare a sea turtle named Aquarium for release into the Andaman Sea. She was found tangled near the aquarium in a stray fishing net. She had been recovering for about a year and was ready for release. I held Aquarium while she got her vitamin shots, and Pear took blood tests to make sure she was healthy. The turtle had a microchip put in and was also tagged before the release.
The conservation of sea turtles in Phuket is being kept alive today by the Phuket Marine Biological Centre and the Mai Khao Marine Foundation at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa, with the help of the Thai government. It’s not just about the breeding and release program; it’s the educational opportunity that is just as important. Giving visitors the chance to interact with and learn about these beautiful creatures will go a long way towards future conservation efforts.
It’s a great experience; check out these programs yourself when you are in Phuket next.
For more information, visit www.maikhaomarineturtlefoundation.org.
Watch the Explore TV clip on the Mai Khao Turtle Foundation here.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.