Did you know that at one point in time turtles were hunted for their meat? Well, that was in the past but the dwindling population of turtles and its detrimental effect on the environment luckily meant a ban on the practice. So when I had a chance to visit Kélonia a sea turtle observatory in Reunion Islands – a site that was once the hunting ground of turtles that has been converted to a conservation and environmental awareness center, I was naturally intrigued and excited. The center is built around the theme of sea turtles and has a colourful exterior façade with brightly coloured turtle paintings that sets the tone for what you see inside. Incidentally, Kelonia participates in research programs to protect sea turtles and their habitats in Réunion Islands and the Indian Ocean and has partnered with teams across the world for this cause. The best part is that the Kélonia health center treats wounded or sick turtles, helps them rehabilitate and then releases them back to the sea once they are fit.
Located close to St. Leu this place was found in 1977 as a turtle farm that sold turtle meat, fat and carapace and in 1994 this was converted into a sanctuary and observation center for the very same animals that were once killed here. This is the place where you can observe turtles in an environment close to their natural home in the ocean. The large reception area also has several banners and small school projects talking of turtle conservation. As such there are several sections within the observatory. The basement has windows built around a large pool from where you can do this. The entire space is located across multiple levels with a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. The Indian Ocean has five of the seven species of turtles and in the tank you can see not just the turtles but a variety of colorful coral fishes. All these water pools and breeding tanks are filled with salt water from the ocean. The flip side though is that all the information panels ae in French but there are graphics as well that talk of the anatomy and behavior of the turtles that are quite self-explanatory. There is also a small audio visual room that plays movies on turtles and children will also enjoy the little games they can play on the touchscreens here. The video room also airs several kinds of programs including films and documentaries aired in the 40-seat screening room.
Kelonia also plays an important role in raising public awareness of the environmental cause associated with turtles and holds numerous exhibitions on the site all through the year. The living workshop is the space that allows you to discover flagship of the crafts on the island that the Region wants to promote. This is also the only place that still has the turtle carapace that is converted into small, utility products and these happen to belong to the turtles when Kelonia was 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 if you had second thoughts think again. Your ticket cost is actually helping injured turtles and tortoises. Kélonia also has a shop, showcase of local crafts, which offers a unique choice of objects around sea turtles that are categorized as ‘Nature’ made of natural materials, ‘Austral’ made in Reunion or in the region, ‘Citizen’ that help contribute to the financing of research and conservation actions and ‘Unique’ for those sold exclusively in Kelonia. So if you love animals and conservation, a visit to Kelonia is an eye opener in more ways than one.
This story appeared in First Post here.