The loggerhead turtle ("Caretta Caretta") is a unique selling point of the area and the people of Dalyan use these magnificent creatures to boost tourism. Turtle gifts and souvenirs can be bought almost everywhere. From key rings, mugs, statues, photos, and t-shirts. If there is room to put a turtle on it then a turtle will be put on it. The increase in tourism has led to an increase in boats, which has led to an increase in injured turtles. As you're all aware turtles need to breath air, which means they have to frequently surface making them susceptible to being injured by boat propellers, and it is these propellers that injure the turtles. It is ironic that tourism is harming the very thing that created it.
The Turtle sanctuary was set up to assist these injured turtles on their road to recovery. Whilst it is primarily set up for the endangered loggerhead turtles the sanctuary will also look after the more common green sea turtles, although I didn't notice any during my visit, which I found strange. Surely the sea turtles get hit by the propellers, or are they more intelligent than the loggerheads and move out of the way of the boats? Or is it that the seat turtles are not considered as highly as the loggerheads therefore the injured ones are not reported when they are found? Whatever the reason there were no sea turtles at the sanctuary.
Located on Turtle Beach, the turtle sanctuary is ideally located for the purpose it was set up for. The premises, if you can call them that, consist of no more than a metal frame with a roof on the top. There are no in-fill panels or walls and it is totally open. Under the roof are numerous large holding tanks used to house the turtles whilst they are recovering. Other than the 'baby' tank, each tank holds a single turtle. This ensures each turtle has the maximum amount of room possible, doesn't have to fight for food and also prevents any fighting (and further damage) that may occur.
The tanks are large enough to let the turtles swim around but small enough to ensure that their live food, being crabs and fish (both are required for a complete diet and ensure the turtles get all the nutrition they need) can be caught by the turtles to ensure they will be able to catch food when they are returned to the wild.
Students and volunteers run look after the turtle sanctuary, and they do a great job. Whilst walking around the sanctuary the students and volunteers were tending to the turtles and answering any questions visitors had. Whilst the students didn't speak fluent English, they spoke enough to get by. It is clear that all the students are passionate about the turtles and are very dedicated. Every morning the students walk the beach to look for injured turtles, or baby turtles that didn't make it to the sea by daylight. The babies are susceptible to predators during daylight, therefore any found in the mornings will be collected by the students and taken to the sanctuary for the day before being taken back to the sea during the hours of darkness.
Nearly all the turtles in the sanctuary have had a run in with boats and propellers. Looking around the tanks I was amazed at the damage the propellers do. Turtle shells are thick and very protective yet the propeller blades cut through them like a hot knife through butter, and the resultant wounds are horrendous. The gashes go all the way through the shell and down to the skin.
Many of the turtles had been at the sanctuary for months and whilst the students assured us they were all on the road to recovery the wounds were still awful and it looked like there was still a long way to go. Whether the wounds would ever completely heal was anyone's guess, although the students were confident they would.
Whilst the students are attempting to keep the turtles mobile and ensure that can chase food for themselves, so they would cope back in the wild, I have to question the success of this. I am doubtful over whether the turtles would actually be able to fend for themselves if they were ever released. Perhaps it would be better if the turtles were nursed back to health and then kept in captivity?
I would much prefer to see an animal in the their natural habitat but sometimes it is better to keep them in captivity. By all accounts the shells take years to grow back fully, and even once re-grown there could still be repercussions, and during this time the turtles ability to survive in the wild decreases day by day. Releasing animals after such a long period must be like a lamb to the slaughter and I would hate to see these magnificent creatures die prematurely when they could have lived out the rest of their days in the safety of captivity.
In addition to the holding tanks there is a small wooden shed on site, which shows the life cycle of the loggerheads through pictures, posters, models and written pieces. This "cradle to grave" cycle from egg to death is actually interesting and gives an insight in to the loggerheads.
You are allowed to take pictures of the loggerheads although you are asked not to use the flash. Anyone using a flash is given a warning and if caught using it again they are removed from the site and this rule is enforced. In addition, you are requested not to crowd around the tanks, try and touch the turtles or bang on the tank. Anyone breaking these rules will be removed from the site.
Getting in to the sanctuary is totally free. There is a donations box at the entry to the sanctuary for those that wish to leave some money. What amazed me is that there is no obligation to leave a donation. The students don't lay the guilt trip or pressurize visitors to make a donation, unlike many charitable organizations I can think of in the UK, which is great and it is for this reason I made a substantial donation. If I had been press-ganged in to it then I would have left without leaving anything.
We were lucky enough to see a loggerhead in the wild during our trip to Dalyan, which is a rarity by all accounts. The captain of the boat stressed how honored and privileged we were to see one so close and in the wild and I was humbled by the whole thing. I never really took much notice of loggerheads before this trip but my opinion has changed greatly as a result. If you actually take time to have a look you realize how magical and gorgeous these creatures are. The only sure fire way to see a loggerhead in Dalyan is to visit the sanctuary, and whilst it is a pity to see these creatures in such a bad way, at least they are being looked after very well.
(This review, and associated photographs have been posted on other review sites under the name of Yackers1)