Jessica Bellamy

Turtle Rehabilitation


jess turtles

Welcome to an international edition of Would Jess Like It.

Jess is currently on holidays, which usually signals a bit of a respite from the normal breakneck pace at which she updates this blog. However, today something so wonderful happened that it was impossible to leave it unblogged.

Today, Jess witnessed Turtle Rehabilitation.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never really seen a Coast Guard doing anything impressive. Last month in New York, all I could ascertain that coast guards did was escort the Staten Island Ferry to and fro, brandishing a big-ass gun and waving at tourists.

Today I got to see a different sort of Coast Guard, performing a very different sort of responsibility.

Let me set the scene: it’s 5.45pm on a stunning beach vista in Mirissa, Sri Lanka.  The waves are rough, the leathery tourists are buff, and life was there for the living. I’m happy as a clam, sitting on the sand, reading my personally autographed Colm Toibin novel as the sun sets, when my sister sprints up to me with NEWS.

“There is a turtle rehabilitation centre around the corner. ARE YOU READY FOR THE BEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE?!”

I follow Roz, and I see something wonderful. Five tubs of different sorts of turtle, all recovering from various maladies, requiring official Sri Lankan governmental intervention.

And here’s where the Coast Guard enters the picture.


At 6.05, they stride up to the tubs looking ready for action. Their uniforms are very impressive: a classy olive green pant and shirt combo, topped with a snazzy beret. They carry a bucket of pilchards and a large silver knife.

One Coast Guard keeps watch while the other Coast Guard wets the knife for better cutting power in some of the turtle bathwater. He lifts pilchards out of the water and chops them firmly into little slices of dead fish – a tail slice, an abdomen slice, a head slice. Each knife slice makes a firm squelch as it slices through fish spine, and I don’t want to hurl even a little bit. Because something wonderful is about to happen.

We know it, and the turtles know it: these motherfuckers are getting EXCITED, splashing water through their nostrils and waggling their soft sweet flippers at our gawking mouths.

Each tub is given a feeding deposit; a little pile of fish pieces, and the Coast Guard gestures firmly at the fish. It isn’t clear at first what we are meant to do. It becomes clearer when he picks up a piece of fish, waves it above a turtle’s head, and then places it back down on the tub.

This is an interactive exercise.

And then it is on. Kids and adults, men and women, all nationalities coming together in their fervent desire to feed the shit out of these turtles.

In each tub, something unique and wonderful is happening. These include: little turtles snapping at each other over fish pieces and splashing us in the process; hand-feeding a large turtle who had lost one of his flippers; the bottom feeding that one particularly shrewd turtle is doing, once he realises that valuable pilchard heads had fallen to the bottom of his rehab tub.

I was flinging fish in there like it was going out of style, wiping errant scales off my fingers with gay abandon. I have never experienced anything quite like it, and perhaps never will again.

Except when I return today at 9am.

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