A well-wisher holds a sea turtle at the Sea Turtle Conservation Center as part of the celebrations for the upcoming 65th birthday of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, in Sattahip district, Chonburi province, Thailand, July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha(reuters_tickers)
CHONBURI, Thailand (Reuters) - Hundreds of people gathered at a beach in Thailand on Wednesday to release 1,066 turtles into the sea as part of celebrations to mark the birthday of new King Maha Vajiralongkorn this week.
King Vajiralongkorn's July 28 birthday was announced by the military government as a public holiday this year.
Celebrations were expected to include merit-making ceremonies at Buddhist temples across Thailand and a mass alms-giving event for more than 600 Buddhist monks at a public square in the capital, Bangkok, on Friday.
At the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre in Chonburi, around 75 km (47 miles) southeast of Bangkok, men and women from the Royal Thai Navy, students and Thai celebrities released the 1,066 turtles into the sea.
The number 1,066 was chosen to symbolize the number 10 for King Rama X, as King Vajiralongkorn is known, and the number 66, one more than his age, to wish the king longevity.
"The main event today is the release of the turtles, which also symbolizes longevity," said Athichanan Srisevok, a Thai actress and nature advocate.
"I want to wish long live His Majesty and for him to be healthy."
Some attendees waved white flags bearing the words "Long Live the King".
Thai Buddhists believe that releasing captive animals is one way of gaining good karma.
The turtles released on Wednesday were raised from eggs collected by the navy from nearby Koh Kram island. Some of those released were as young as a week old.
Vajiralongkorn inherited the throne in December following the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October.
The late king's reign spanned seven decades and was punctuated by political turbulence.
(Reporting by Donna Airoldi; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Paul Tait)