How Kélonia, a sea turtle farm-turned-observatory in the Indian Ocean, is helping save the species
Kélonia, where sea turtles were previously hunted, is now a place where wounded or sick turtles are rehabilitated before they can be released back into the sea | #FirstCulture
There was a time in the past when turtles were hunted for their meat, but a dwindling population and the detrimental effects on the environment luckily resulted in a ban on the practice. So, when I had a chance to visit Kélonia, a sea turtle observatory in the Reunion Islands – a site that was once the hunting ground of turtles, now converted into a conservation and environmental awareness centre – I was naturally intrigued and excited.
The centre has a colourful exterior façade, with brightly coloured paintings of turtles which set the tone for what you will see inside. Incidentally, Kélonia participates in research programmes to protect sea turtles and their habitats in the Réunion Islands and the Indian Ocean, and has partnered with teams across the world for this cause. Its health center treats wounded or sick turtles, helps rehabilitate them, and then releases them back to the sea once they are fit.
Located close to St Leu, this centre was founded in 1977 as a turtle farm that sold meat, fat and carapace; in 1994, it was converted into a sanctuary and observation center for the same animals that were once killed here. This is one place where it is possible to observe turtles in an environment similar to their natural home in the ocean. The large reception area also has several banners and small school projects which talk about conservation. The observatory has several sections within it, and one can watch these animals in action from the basement which has windows built around a large pool.
The Indian Ocean has five of the seven species of turtles found in the world, and in the tank at Kélonia, you will also be able to see colorful coral fishes. All these water pools and breeding tanks are filled with salt water from the ocean itself. Though there are graphics which explain the anatomy and behaviour of the turtles in a self-explanatory manner, all the information panels are in French (the Reunion Islands, though located in the Indian Ocean, are a region of France). There is also a small AV room that plays movies and documentaries on turtles, where children can enjoy games that can be played on the touchscreens here.
Tourism that backs an environmental cause
Kélonia also plays an important role in raising public awareness by holding numerous exhibitions on site all through the year. The living workshop is a space where one can learn about the crafts practised by the people living on the islands. This is also the only place where turtle carapace is converted into small, utility products; they belong to the turtles that were captured when Kélonia was still a turtle farm.
While all the outdoor spaces here are meant to showcase the natural environs of the turtle, the garden is home to the native coastal vegetation of the island. An esplanade at the top of an old lime kiln is the place to head to for some panoramic views of the lagoon and the bay of Saint-Leu. Entry to the centre is ticketed, but you shouldn't have second thoughts about paying for it. Your ticket cost is actually helping injured turtles and tortoises.