Quy Coc Tu

Con Dao is home to one of nature’s most fascinating moments, turtle nesting season

Visitors watch baby turtles heading back to the sea

The pristine island where turtles lay eggs

Con Dao archipelago is located in the southeastern part of the East Sea, about 185 kilometers from the Vung Tau coast and 85 kilometers from Tran De Estuary (Soc Trang). Con Dao’s terrain is exceptional, with granite mountains ranging from the northwest to the southeast and primary forests, home to many endemic species, surrounding the land and stretching to the coast.

In 1993, Con Dao National Park was established with 5,800 hectares of reserve forests, 14,000 hectares of preserved sea and more than 2,000 hectares of marine buffer zone. In addition to its pristine wilderness, Con Dao is also a haven for marine turtles. Every year from May to October around 400 green and olive ridley sea turtles come to 14 nesting sites in the National Park to lay eggs. One unique characteristic of the turtles is that they return to where they were born to spawn their own eggs. There are beaches where turtles come in large numbers, such as the big sand beaches on Bay Canh Island, Cau Islet and Tre Lon Islet, the sand beach on Tai Islet and Duong Beach on Bay Canh Islet

After each nesting season, about 150,000 baby turtles are protected and released to the sea, with the rate of successful hatching being approximately 87%. During the peak of the season, there are even nights with about 10 to 20 mother turtles coming to the nesting sites.

A sea turtle incubation ground is open for tourists

The arduous journey of sea turtle conservation and rescue

The conservation and rescue of sea turtles in Con Dao dates back nearly two decades, according to Bui Thi Thu Hien, coordinator of the Marine and Coastal Management Program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “IUCN organized the first conference on developing the plan for marine turtle protection in Con Dao 19 years ago,” she said. “In 2014, we held the first volunteer program on marine turtle conservation and this activity has been maintained until now. Currently, 300 volunteers have participated in the program and taken charge of tasks such as cleaning hatching sites, relocating nests, supporting forest rangers in caring for and releasing turtles back to the sea.”

Although the Management Board of the National Park, IUCN, and other relevant authorities have been making efforts to protect the marine turtles in Con Dao, they face many difficulties and the turtles remain threatened by both nature and human beings. Key reasons behind this are global warming leading to sea level rise, the skewed sex ratio of turtles (97% of hatched turtles are expected to be female by 2100), poaching and egg thievery.

Volunteers join the marine turtle conversation program

Ao Hoang Sang, head of Ben Dam Forest Ranger Station, who has nine years of experience in marine turtle conservation, said that forest rangers have to frequently patrol the park to prevent poaching or close approach of boats or ships to the nesting sites as turtles are very sensitive to sound.

During a tour of the island, Huynh Van Hung, staff of the Information and Culture Department of Con Dao district, shared that after 20 years of attachment to the National Park before officially working in the district, he has grown to love this land as his own life. He remembers staying up all night to watch over the turtles laying eggs, then relocating their nests to prevent natural predators from stealing eggs. Hung knows by heart every corner where the turtles spawn.

According to him, about 150,000 turtles return to the sea every year but only roughly 150 of them can reach maturity, putting them in danger of extinction. These days, Con Dao is experiencing a powerful transition with many tourism projects to be implemented. Development is indispensable to the island’s future, but sustainability is also essential to marine life so that hundreds of years later, turtles can still follow the blue waves and return to Con Dao to lay their eggs. From here, millions of baby turtles will themselves swim into the vast ocean and the cycle of life will continue.

For years, Con Dao has been known as a turtle heaven in Vietnam