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Since we arrived in Thailand, we’ve been working with the navy and a scientific base close to Khao Lak on their turtle projects. Twice a week, we’ve been cleaning the turtles’ tanks and applying fungicide on the turtles to ensure they stay healthy. These projects were started in order to improve the amount of turtles that survive to a reproductive age. Their rationale is that if the turtles are taken as babies to the base and only released after they are 6 months or older, their chances of survival are larger. Although we have not seen official statistics, we’ve been told that the survival chances do increase.

Cleaning the tanks and scrubbing the turtles is always an enjoyable task, albeit sometimes quite strenuous. Sometimes though, it’s difficult to recognize the importance of our work at the turtle projects. This is especially true when we realize that we aren’t really sure if the chances of the turtles surviving are larger given our work. For instance, many of the turtles, because they are placed in tanks with more turtles than would naturally be in their habitat, have fungus around their bodies. It’s difficult to understand how this is natural and how our work of applying medicine and cleaning the tanks is useful.

However, last Thursday we experienced the end-goal of all our hard work. Usually, the turtles are only released twice a year: once on the King’s and once on the Queen’s birthday. This week, though, marked 70 years since the king had been on the throne, and for this occasion, turtles at the Navy base were released. It was a large event, the members of the navy, their wives, and kids from a local school came to watch the release. Before releasing the turtles, some of the members of the navy spoke, explained the project, talked about the King, and celebrated his triumphs. When it was time for the release, we were given the chance to show the rest of the people at the event how to properly hold the turtle and how to place it down on the sand.

The turtles surprisingly have an incredible instinct of what they should do when they are placed on the sand. All of them, as soon as their fins touched the sand, many for the first time since they were newly hatched, knew that they had to swim towards the water. It was beautiful to see the turtles we have taken care of for a month be released into the wild. Although there are some drawbacks to this project and we wish we could tag the turtles to keep track of the survival rate so that the success of this project could be quantifiable, the experience of seeing turtles being released into their natural habitat left us all with watery eyes.