Colombo is a great city but what do you do when you have fewer than 24 hours to spend in the Sri Lankan capital?

I headed to Mount Lavinia beach early in the morning. In front of me were miles of golden beach interrupted only by fishermen hauling their nets back to the shore and motorboats doing trial runs. I approached one of the motorboat operators and asked them to take me for a spin—as far as far as they could. Soon, I found myself at a site that was badly hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—also home to a local initiative called Our Turtle Conservation Project (OTCP).

The Sri Lankan waters are home to five out of seven species of turtles in the world. OTCP is a hatchery and rehabilitation centre for turtles rescued from fishing nets and vessels in the area.

Milan, the project leader, along with volunteers and local fishermen, ensures safe hatching, preserving and releasing of turtles.

OTCP looks like the average beachside cottage. At the entrance is a fenced patch with small numbered boards sticking out of the sand. Turtle eggs! Once they hatch, Milan and his team release them into the sea. The ones who need medical attention end up in little turtle tanks at the centre. My heart sank when I saw a couple of Olive Ridley turtles missing front flippers. Fishing net accidents, I was told.

I also met a few rescued hawksbills, loggerheads and some very friendly green turtles. I never thought I would one day get to feed crustaceans to turtles. I even tried to pet a hawksbill turtle and instantly regretted it. The grumpy young one tried to bite my finger off.

The hatchery is funded by tourist donations and one can even adopt individual turtles financially, in other words sponsor their rehabilitation. As my OTCP tour ended, I made a new entry in my bucket list—adopt a turtle.