Where to Swim with Sea Turtles in Asia

Oct 14, 2020 | Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Travel Tips

Sea turtles have been around for over 150 million years and can be found all over the globe! If you’re yet to experience the magical feeling of floating alongside one in the wild then you’ve got an incredible trip to look forward to in the future. It can be difficult to find ethical experiences involving wildlife, so check out our rundown below of where we swim with sea turtles in Asia and how you can do so responsibly.

 

Sea turtles are at risk of a number of different threats, from habitat destruction & coastal development to plastic pollution and threats from abandoned fishing gear. Even things like indirect fishing (known as bycatch, where turtles get trapped by commercial fishing nets that are targeting other species), mean that the sad reality is that of the 7 species that exist in our oceans, 6 are now considered threatened or endangered. Green Sea turtles are listed as endangered, while Hawksbill turtles and Kemp’s Ridleys are critically endangered. Leatherbacks, Loggerheads and Olive Ridley’s are vulnerable and flatbacks are listed as endangered in some places only, such as Australia. 

 

Sustainable tourism and raising awareness during your travels can contribute to sea turtle conservation. Keep reading for the ways in which you can have an ethical experience when you swim with sea turtles in the wild!

 

HOW SHOULD I SWIM WITH SEA TURTLES?

Initially, approach a turtle by first testing the waters (pun intended). Don’t jump into the water as a loud splash will startle the turtle, and avoid splashing a lot when you swim anywhere nearby. You should allow the turtle to get used to your presence and decide that you don’t pose a threat. If a turtle is on the move, it’ll allow you to cruise alongside provided you are not chasing it and are keeping a safe distance. Keep to the rules below to respect the turtle!

 

  1. Avoid any interference with sea turtles, do not disrupt their route by swimming in front of them or chasing them from behind. Keep a distance from them and allow them to go where they please without any interaction from yourself or your group. Use those newfound 2020 social distancing skills!
  2. Also in line with social distancing, keep your hands to yourself! Not only should you never touch a turtle, but those beaklike mouths are no joke and can hurt you if you get too close. These amazing creatures originated from as far back as the late Jurassic period, swimming alongside them is truly humbling and they deserve your respect.
  3. Avoid swimming on top of a turtle as they do return to the surface to breathe. This is where they feel most vulnerable as they are at risk of threats like sharks or passing boats so allow them even more space to come up for air and swim back down again.
  4. If you are swimming in a group, be patient & take it in turns. You should always make a ‘U’ shape behind the turtle, and remember, never chase it!
  5. Don’t use flash on your underwater camera or even consider leaving it behind. We promise you’ll remember the experience forever anyway.
  6. Never feed a sea turtle, they know how to provide for themselves and you shouldn’t interrupt this process as it can have long lasting negative effects on their natural behaviour.
  7. Be vocal when you see someone doing something they shouldn’t, help educate others if they interact in a negative or harmful way.
  8. Always choose tour companies that operate responsibly. They shouldn’t allow touching or feeding of turtles and should limit the number of people in the water at any one time.

 

AWESOME, SO WHERE CAN I SWIM WITH SEA TURTLES IN ASIA?

  1. PORT BARTON, PALAWAN. PHILIPPINES.
    One of the best places we’ve ever been to swim with Turtles is just a 20 minute boat ride off the rustic town of Port Barton. This small area between two islands known locally as ‘Turtle Point’ is outlined with the most stunning reef and is littered with hundreds of species of fish. You can even spot a clownfish or two! The bottom of this area is a sandy bottom, seagrass bed. Seagrass being one of the main food sources for an adult green sea turtle, here you will almost always spot a turtle or two when you’re exploring the area. The best part of this area is that should you not come across a turtle, you’re literally next door to one of Palawan’s most famous (and definitely most picturesque) islands. Inaladelan island is full of hammocks and day beds and is not somewhere you would be upset about spending a few hours.

Inaladelan Island, Port Barton, Palawan (Credit: Lewis Vincent)

2. GILI TRAWANGAN, LOMBOK. INDONESIA.

The three Gili Islands are the absolute definition of paradise. Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan are all popular destinations in Indonesia, but Gili Trawangan is by far the most highly visited of the three. This unique island is where most backpackers will head to experience the vibrant island culture, awesome wildlife and great nightlife. The best part of visiting this island is that you can actually snorkel with turtles right off the coast! It’s an epic spot to explore, and the water is so blue you’ll never want to leave. If you’re not keen on snorkeling from shore there’s also the option to explore via boat and head further out where you’ll find many turtles, and even underwater statues!

One Life legend Brooke snorkelling with a turtle in Gili T, Indonesia

 3. HIKKADUWA, SRI LANKA.
Remember you don’t always have to be in the water to experience our incredible ocean! In Sri Lanka we visit an awesome turtle sanctuary/hatchery that rehabilitates some of these beautiful creatures and helps the species by providing a safe nesting site and promoting education about their plight. Instead of swimming with sea turtles, you get to experience them and find out how awesome they are, but from a truly safe distance! You can visit the turtles they look after and learn all about conservation so you can help educate others, before it’s too late. Want to learn more about the other kind of snorkelling you can do in Sri Lanka? Check out 3 of the top snorkelling sites in Sri Lanka here.

Our guests visiting the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

 

FUN FACTS!

  1. You can tell if you’re looking at a male or female turtle by checking out their tails – once they reach maturity the male will have a long thick tail and the females tail is much shorter and skinnier.
  2. Once a female turtle has nested, the temperature of the sand will influence the sex of the hatchlings, the cooler sand at the bottom of the nest will produce males and the warmer sand towards the top of the nest will produce female hatchings.
  3. Green sea turtles have a very unique diet, as juveniles they eat meat such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and even jellyfish! However, once they reach maturity at around 35 years of age they switch to a mainly vegetarian diet consisting of algae, seagrass and sponges. Adult sea turtles still have their cheat days though and love to indulge in a jellyfish from time to time.
  4. When you swim with sea turtles, you might spot a nail on the front of a turtle’s flipper. This actually works as a thumb to help rip large Jellyfish into smaller bite sized pieces, and also allows them to scratch their shells should they have an itch!
  5. Female sea turtles always return to the beach where they were born, the crawl they do to make their way to the sea for the first time is how they imprint their location and manage to find their way back some 10-40 years later.

If you’re hoping to swim with sea turtles on your next trip to Asia, don’t hesitate to join us. We only work with local, ethical tour operators and ensure that all wildlife we come across on our trips are protected. Snorkel with us in the Philippines, Indonesia or adventure through Sri Lanka with us and visit the Turtle Sanctuary.

WRITTEN BY: Kate Justice

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