TWO turtles are heading out into the Andaman Sea this evening with the hopes and best wishes of the people of Greater Phuket riding on their backs.
With those hopes and best wishes, the Olive Ridley turtles' shells will be carrying GPS tracking devices that can tell those at home base where they are heading.
It's the first time two turtles like these have been equipped with such sophisticated tracking devices, costing 120,000 baht per carapace.
''These turtles are both two years old and have been raised since they were hatched in captivity,'' said Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, of the Marine Environment Specia Unit at the Phuket marine Biology Centre.
If all goes well, another five turtles will be released with similar tracking devices in March.
As for the two pioneers, they are being let loose tonight at Thai Muang beach in Phang Nga under a program sponsored by the Aleenta Resort, on the coast nearby.
Turtle movements are still largely a mystery, especially in their early years. Mature adults are believed to range for thousands of kilometres as far as India or the Philippines, or even Australia.
Another riddle is whether these two two-year-olds are male or female. The biologists just cannot tell: they are too young. From five or six, they will be mature.
The Aleenta's web site will offer fans a chance to follow the turtles, and it is hoped they have plenty of commonsense and can tell the difference between a jellyfish and a plastic bag.
While Phuket has become too developed to have turtles leave eggs in their traditional laying grounds along the beaches, hundreds still deposit eggs along the Phang Nga coast.
Eggs on the beaches are stolen for food mostly by construction workers or villagers who do not understand the priority is now to breed turtles, not eat them.
More turtles have come back this year, Dr Kongkiat said, and biologists are hopeful the signs are encouraging. Even a rare leatherback, once a joy to behold in substantial numbers along the Andaman, has been sighted.
Events at the Aleenta have so far raised about 500,000 baht for the project. Progress of the turtles can be tracked at
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