Tsunami survivor builds amazing turtle sanctuary

Tsunami survivor builds amazing turtle sanctuary

When the devastating Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami struck in 2004 it killed some 35,000 people in Sri Lanka and caused widespread devastation.

Charith Dilshan was one of the lucky ones. When the waves struck he, his mother, two sisters and brother, along with other villagers, survived by fleeing to a temple on a nearby hill.

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After the first large wave brought fishing boats crashing into the walls of their house, Charith's uncle, who had been a seaman in Japan, told everyone to run for the temple to save their lives.

According to Charith, after the first wave struck the beach became 'like a desert' as the ocean receded.

Thankfully his family and other villagers managed to reach the temple before the second, most destructive wave struck the coast.

Though they survived with their lives, Charith's family home was destroyed and they, like many, resettled further away from the coast.

However, after his brush with death, Charith developed a deepened appreciation for nature and a feeling of responsibility to protect it.

Tsunami survivor builds amazing turtle sanctuary

As a Buddhist, he believes, 'If you respect nature, nature will respect you.'

As such he decided to transform his family's beachfront land into a sea turtle hatchery and sanctuary, where he protects endangered sea turtle eggs until they can be safely released, and rehabilitates injured or disabled turtles that cannot survive on their own.

Out of seven species of sea turtles that exist in the world, five come to this beach to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, these eggs are vulnerable to being destroyed by animals, reptiles or humans. Only one in 1,000 baby sea turtles will survive to adulthood.

Charith has a unique opportunity to protect unhatched eggs from potential threats. Dogs, monitors, snakes and humans all pose threats to the survival of sea turtle eggs while they incubate in the sand.

Tsunami survivor builds amazing turtle sanctuary

Mother turtles lay around 100 eggs at a time. Charith will carefully move these eggs from their vulnerable position on the beach to a special protected location.

Once they hatch, Charith prefers to release the baby turtles immediately, as they would naturally do, but he will often keep them until sundown to give them a higher chance of evading predators.

Charith also cares for injured turtles and tries to keep the beach as clean and safe as possible.

Fishing hooks and netting, which are discarded by fishermen, wash up daily on the beach and kill many sea turtles. Charith now tries to educate local fishermen not to discard hooks and netting into the sea.

Tsunami survivor builds amazing turtle sanctuary

As well as being killed or injured by hooks, sea turtles can also often become trapped in nets, injured by boats, or become sick from consuming plastics floating in the ocean. Thirty to forty endangered turtle bodies wash up on Charith's beach every year.

However, with Charith's help many turtles who would have perished survive and are returned to the ocean.

In one recent case, he discovered a turtle that had lost a flipper, possibly due to a boat or getting entangled in a net. Following its injury it starved at sea which caused air to accumulate inside its body. This, and the missing flipper, now prevents her from being able to balance herself or to dive under water. Because she cannot survive at sea Charith will continue to care for her.

Other turtles, once rehabilitated, he prefers to release immediately to the wild.

Animal islands
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Animal islands
Pig Beach, or Pig Island, is an uninhabited island in Exuma, the Bahamas, famed for its many swimming pigs. They are said to have been dropped off on the island by sailors who wanted to return to cook and eat them, but never returned. Others say the pigs survived a shipwreck and managed to swim to the island. Today, the pigs are fed by tourists who visit the island to meet its unexpected residents.

Okunoshima Island, in Japan, attracts tourists to witness its huge rabbit population that has taken over the island, with many people visiting to feed the animals. The island, often called Usagi Jima or Rabbit Island, was used as a poison gas facility in World War II. The rabbits were intentionally set loose after the war when the island was developed as a park.

The jungles of Guam have up to 40 times more spiders than the forested areas of the nearby Pacific Islands thanks to the invasive brown snakes that wiped out 10 of the 12 spider-eating bird species. Because the birds ate some of the insects that spiders eat, there is also now more food for the spiders to eat. One of the most common types of spider in the jungle is the yellow and black Banana Spider.

The wild horses on the Assateague Island in Maryland are actually feral but tough enough to survive the scorching heat, stormy weather and poor quality food found on the remote barrier island. Local folklore says they are survivors of a shipwreck off the coast of Virginia. Assateague is one of the few places in America where you can view wild horses and visitors are advised to admire the animals from a distance.

Located just a few kilometres off the northern beaches of False Bay, near Cape Town, Seal Island is home to approximately 65,000 Cape Fur Seals. The island is a popular feeding ground for the great white shark and lucky visitors may see the fish breaching in pursuit of its prey. Seal Island is like a sea of brown bodies stretching and hauling themselves along the rocks. It is too rocky to disembark but well worth observing from a boat.

The rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, also known as Monkey Island, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, were introduced in 1938 for scientific research. Around 1,200 free-roaming monkeys can be found on the small island and while it is not open to tourists, you can get an up close view of the animals from the water.

The island of Tashirojima, or Cat Island, off the coast of Ishinomaki in Japan has a larger cat population than it has humans. The people who live on the island are those who take care of the cats. To the locals the cats represent luck and fortune, and there is even a cat shrine at the centre of the island, along with cat-shaped cottages. Cat-loving tourists are welcome to visit the island, but dogs are not allowed.

Every year during the wet season (October to December), Christmas Island's adult red crabs begin their migration from the forest to the Indian Ocean where they breed and spawn. With tens of millions of red crabs living on the island it is possible to witness them pour out of the jungle and take over Christmas Island. The phenomenon lasts several weeks, forcing roads to close for the crabs to cross.

Norway's famous bird island, Runde, is teeming with birds - more than 500,000 that visit from February to August during the nesting season. Bird mountain, with its cliff formations towards the ocean, is dominated by Atlantic puffins. Their nesting season is between April and August, when 100,000 pairs of puffins can be found on the western side of Runde. Outside puffin season, they stay at sea along the coast.

The tiny uninhabited island of Ilha da Queimada Grande, off the coast of Brazil, is definitely one to avoid as it is teeming with one of the most venomous snakes on the planet, the Golden Lancehead Viper. Every three feet, one of the snakes is lurking, terrifying generations of fisherman. Currently, the Brazilian Navy has banned people from visiting the island but occasionally scientists are granted access.

There are approximately 3,000 polar bears and just 2,642 people in the Svalbard archipelago. A large number of polar bears are found on the surrounding islands east of Spitsbergen, yet you should be prepared to encounter one anywhere in Svalbard. As the world's largest land carnivores they are beautiful but dangerous and human encounters often have a fatal outcome. There are polar bear watching cruises which allow you to see the animals from a distance.

Hawaiian island Kauai is famed for its lush vegetation, pristine beaches and… chickens. Roosters, hens and little chicks are found roaming the island and are believed to be descendants of former fighting cocks unleashed during a devastating hurricane which hit over a decade ago. The birds are found in outdoor food courts, ruining sugar cane and corn crops, and even waking tourists at the crack of dawn.


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