Quiet Con Dao Island, situated 97 nautical miles north-west of southern Vung Tau City, gets a bit noisier each year between April and September.
It is during these months that visitors already drawn by the chance to observe abundant wildlife flock to the island’s sandy beaches for the rare opportunity to watch sea turtles lay their eggs.
Con Dao National Park, one of the country’s top six biodiversity hotspots for both land and sea, contains thousands of plant and animal species, and provides a range of eco-tourism options that meet the demands of tourists looking for week-long escapes to this unpolluted island.
The island is home to playful black and brown squirrels, many species of native and migratory birds, and even endangered marine animals like the sea cow, green turtle and hawk’s bill turtles. But it is the night stay on Bay Canh Islet, where visitors can watch green turtles lay eggs in the sand or clamber out to sea, that truly steals the show.
At Con Dao National Park’s headquarters, tourists can see specimens of sea cows (dugongs) and green turtles, and if they’re lucky might even encounter these creatures in their natural habitat, the deep water around island.
One of the popular tours offered by the Con Dao National Park office spends three days exploring Con Dao Island before taking a boat to Bay Canh islet. There, the green turtles’ performances are made possible by a hatchery and conservation centre that makes sure the turtles have a safe, clean place to lay their eggs and then protects the clutches of eggs buried along the beach until they are ready to hatch. The centre’s staff also monitors the baby turtles’ exodus into the ocean and tags mother turtles for monitoring.
The national park tourism office has mapped out 11 routes around the island, including treks through its inland forests and diving services covering the 14 islets just offshore from the centre of Con Dao Town.
Visitors can take direct 70-passenger ATR-72 Flights from Hcm city to Con Dao Town twice a week. They can also make the 12 hour-journey to the island by ship from Vung Tau City in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.
The island is the largest of 16 islands in the archipelago extending from Southern Viet nam Spanning 51.52 sq.m with a population of 6,000. The island offers quality accommodations to serve over 500 visitors
Visitors usually spend their first day on the island touring the historical sites around Con Dao Town, which actually served as a huge prison camp that held Vietnamese patriots, beginning at the height of the French colonial period in 1862 and stretching all the way to the final days of the American war in 1975. On day two, tourists set off for the islets.
A 45-minute trip by boat from the big island, visitors land on Bay Canh Islet and settle in for their night-stay. Out of concern for the impact of tourism on the turtles’ fragile habitat, the hatchery centre hosts no more than seven visitors each night.
"It’s very different from other conservation sites in Viet Nam. The islet preservation service offers tourists a chance to get up close and personal with the turtles at these fascinating moments in their life cycle," said national park staff member Tran Thi My Tam.
"Park rangers will arrange a chance for visitors to see the turtles deposit eggs on the warm, sandy beach. Between June and September, hundreds of turtles crawl from sea onto the beach, where they dig big holes with their hind legs. The turtles drop their eggs into these holes, burying them under a thin layer of sand with a swipe of the leg. Turtles are afraid of light, so they lay their eggs over the course of a night before returning to the sea at dawn."
Tam said that some months later, 50,000 or 60,000 baby turtles emerge from the sand each hatching season, protected from predators and other threats by park staff as they flop their way into the waves. On an interesting side-note, she added that the average temperature during the turtles’ gestation period affected the gender composition of that year’s hatchlings. A hotter season would cause males to predominate, while a cooler season would yield a majority of females.
Helping the turtles
Turtle mothers become tired after hours of giving birth on the sandy beach, so national park rangers have to give them a hand by bringing them near the sea.
According to Nguyen Van Hung, a park ranger, turtles can easily crawl onto the beach at night when the tide is high. But the pre-dawn return trip at low tide is a longer road from the warm, sandy dunes to the water, and the turtles crawl slowly.
"All rangers have to stay awake all night to supervise mother turtles during their toughest time. We recognise them because we tag turtles every year before releasing them to the sea," Hung explained.
"We feel very happy when we begin to meet them regularly, and I think that all visitors will share this feeling with us during their night-stays at the hatchery centre.
"We make sure that you will have an unforgettable experience witnessing a turtle lay its eggs on the beach. Afterward we release the mother turtles back into the sea after their tough, tiring delivery, and then go on to lead the infant turtles to the sea a few months later," said Hung.
The national park ranger also added that sometimes visitors have bad luck and fail to see any mother turtles crawling up the beaches during a three-night stay.
"We are proud of the environment of our national park. The islet is the first site in Viet Nam involved in rescuing and releasing sea turtles. We release around 60,000 turtles every year during the reproduction period," said vice director of Con Dao National Park Tran Dinh Hue
"Turtles appearing and reproducing on the islands is a signal of a well-protected environment, which makes island so attractive as a great marine life conservation site," he said, adding that the unspoiled environment and the well-protected forests helped the park attract around 3,000 visitors annually, a third of whom are foreign tourists.
Visitors can ask the national park to arrange a time for them to release turtles back into the sea.
Bay Canh Islet is also a good place for scuba diving or trekking through mangrove forests to reach to a lighthouse at the summit of a 352m mountain, as well as going camping on Cau Islet , a 30-minute boat ride from the hatchery centre.
Visitors can spend their marine life tour on other islets with fishing and diving, such as Hon Tai, Hon Tre, Hon Troc, Dam Tre Bay, Shark Cape and Dam Trau beach.
National park researchers are presently watching between eight and 12 sea cows, endangered herbivorous marine animals that live in the deep sea off Tre Lon and Tre Nho Islets.
Just click the park’s website: www.condaopark.com.vn, where you can explore all your options when planning a beautiful trip to the island.
Tag: Environment , Flight , Hcm , Hcm City , Hue , National Park , Tour , Tourism , Tourist , Viet Nam , Vietnam , Vietnamese
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