Posted by: yashada | October 21, 2008

Turtles!

The Discovery and National Geographic channels were launched in India when I was in school. I remember being glued to the TV watching fascinating beasts and equally fascinating people studying them. I wished I could join this band of cool conservators and adventurers, travel across the globe and save the jaguar in the amazon or watch chimps communicate or release turtles into the wild.
So when I heard that people were, in fact, trying to save turtles in my own backyard I jumped right in as a volunteer.

The Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra is (SNM), is an NGO based in Chiplun, Maharastra. They have met with success in their attempt to save turtle eggs that hatch on the Konkan beaches. Locals used to eat turtle eggs, but volunteers of SNM educated them about the importance of turtles. They eventually took local fisher folks into confidence, who became their informers. Whenever a turtle nest was spotted, efforts were made to guard the nest by building temporary fences around the nest. In case there were many nests, hatcheries were made and eggs were protected from stray dogs, foxes and other predators.

Marine turtles live their entire lives in the sea, but the female comes on land to lay her eggs. She comes roughly on the same beach that she was born on to lay her eggs. She lays about 150 to 200 eggs at a time. After about 6-8 weeks the eggs hatch and the tiny little hatchlings find their way to the sea. They are attracted by the moonlight reflected over the waves- which steers them towards the sea. But bright city lights coming from the opposite direction may confuse them and they end up going the wrong way, i.e. inland. Hatchlings also fall prey to natural predators like foxes, birds etc. They also have natural enemies in the sea. It is estimated that only one or two turtles from a single batch survive up to adulthood. Turtles are also falling prey to trawler nets. Trawlers cast their vast nets in the water for about 9-10 hours. If a turtle gets entangled in it, it can’t come up to the surface to breath. It needs to come to the surface to breath every hour or so. So the poor thing suffocates to death.

The olive ridley turtle is known to nest along the entire coast of India. SNM wanted to find out if turtles nest north of Ratnagiri, near Mumbai.
A workshop was held to gather volunteers for the job. Volunteering work involves traveling along coastal villages north of Mumbai and talking to the local fisher folk. They are the best people to give accurate information about turtle sightings. The work also involves telling them about the importance of turtles in the food chain, and that their conservation will finally help in the conservation of other fish in the sea.
The first trip took place last Sunday, on the 19th of October. Fisherfolk said they remembered lots of turtles coming to the beach to lay eggs and that they used to eat the eggs. But now, it has been 15 years since a turtle came to lay eggs on their beach. It sure was disheartening to hear that. But we had traveled to a couple of villages very close to Mumbai and maybe the further away we go from this crowded and polluted city , the better the condition of the beaches and better the chances of turtles visiting them.

But I can’t help myself ask the question, is this whole effort to release turtles into the sea the real solution to the problem? According to one paper, “Programs such as headstarting, captive breeding, and hatcheries may serve only to release more turtle into a degraded environment in which their parents have already demonstrated that they cannot flourish.” Even if we do release them into the ocean, what are the chances of them surviving in an environment that we know is hazardous for them? If we really want to save them, we must look at the larger picture. The authors of the above paper suggest ‘turtle excluder‘ nets, nets that only catch the target fish and let turtles go free. They also suggest low pressure sodium lamps on beaches so the turtles don’t get disoriented.

Asking a trawler owner to set up turtle excluder devices, asking for special lighting near beaches will be easier said than done. After all, why will a trawler owner be interested in setting up some new device when he is not getting anything out of it? That would mean asking the Government to give them subsidies, or tax benefits; which ultimately means a lot of paper work and probably years stuck in a red tape.

YOu might call me a cynic, but there is a thin line between being a cynic and a realist.

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Responses

  1. Well put, up to the point n it was seriously good to read…. i mean it makes a person to really stop for a moment n think abt it…
    i seriously admire ur writing skill….. 🙂

  2. i am doing this for homework and this is so much fun…..wooooooooooooooow i read how many eggs and blind my eyes………………noooooow i need to finish my homework also this is skills to write this


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