Rekawa is a small village on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Coral mining is a major reason for the destruction of the reef in this village. For generations, several families in this village have been mining coral for a living. They burn the coral and use the lime from the coral to make cement. Many coral miners did not realize that they were damaging the reef. In the process, the people have also cleared out the mangrove forests in the area to use them as firewood for the lime kilns. They think that the amount of coral they mine is too insignificant to cause any sort of damage to the reef.
Every full moon, sea turtles come to the shores of Rekawa beach to nest. Do you know that out of the seven species of marine sea turtles, Rekawa is home to five of them? The green, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles live in Rekawa! Some village men illegally collected the turtle eggs and sold them. They have been doing this for generations and this was another way many families made a living – their only means of “employment.” In some cases, the young villagers killed the turtles for their meat. Decades ago, the villagers used to see more than 100 turtles come ashore to nest; however, by the 1990s the number of turtles had reduced to about 5!
Rekawa took action and started a project called the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP). They realized that if they did not do something, all species of turtles would face extinction within the next two or three decades. The TCP started several awareness programs within the schools of Rekawa and also held community-wide lectures and information sessions to educate people about the impact of their actions. The TCP also started a research operation and turtle nest protection efforts in the area. They hired former poachers to assist with collecting data required for the research operation. They also initiated a turtle night watch program whereby they charged visitors who wanted to watch the turtles in the night. This money is used to protect the turtles. The villagers were also trained to hold school and community awareness classes and lectures to benefit the TCP. The community children were taught English to increase their prospects for alternate employment. Rekawa's active involvement of the community made a tremendous difference to the marine turtles and the coral reefs. The number of turtles coming ashore to nest in these beaches now has increased: they see about 15 to 20 turtles coming ashore to nest. Illegal poaching of eggs has considerably reduced.
This project received a commendation and special recognition from British Airways for its remarkable success in conservation projects that involved the entire community.