Tuesday, March 30, 2021

‘Punarjani’, conservation project for Olive Ridley Turtles making great strides.

Shri K.B.Sanjayan, Co-ordinator of T.N.H.S
highlighting the importance of protecting turtles
         ‘Punarjani’, a novel project conceived by the Social Forestry wing of the Department of Forests and Wildlife, Kollam, in association with Travancore Nature History Society (TNHS), a Trivandrum-based N.G.O working in the field of nature conservation, was originally launched on January 23, 2020, at Chillakkal beach, Paravur near Kollam. The project envisages protecting Olive Ridley turtles, a reptile that has been placed in the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Olive Ridley turtles have been laying eggs on the shores of Chillakkal and Pozhikkara beaches on the Kollam coast, notably because these are the only two gaps without a seawall erected as a measure against sea erosion. These turtles freely crawl to the shore in the safety of the nightfall in these places, dig pits in the sand some of which as large as to hold up to 100 of its eggs. In course of three weeks when the eggs hatch, hatchlings are led back to the sea by themselves as if by a rare force of intuition. Parental care is sparsely observed in these varieties of turtles.

There has been large scale loss of these eggs as miscreants steal them and sell them for a paltry sum. Hatchlings also fall prey to the cruelty of miscreants. It is also not uncommon that adult turtles that may get entrapped in fishing nets are often massacred for their flesh which fetches higher amounts in the black market. Marine turtles are endangered across their range. In India, Marine turtles nest all along the coastline, the Arabian Sea in the west and the Bay of Bengal in the East. The Eastern coast is having considerably larger nesting areas. Gahirmatha and Rishikulya (Orissa) are globally recognized massive nesting sites. On the western coast, massive nesting sites are not reported; the ones reported are moderate or sporadic nesting areas. Marine turtles face a series of obstacles to successfully complete their life cycle. Massive nesting sites of marine turtles are identified and managed, but most sporadic (nests are located sparsely) nesting sites are still remaining unprotected and unnoticed. Little information is available about the status and distribution of marine turtles on the Kerala Coast. Owing to the sporadic nature, finding nesting sites of Marine turtle present difficulties on the Kerala coast. As a result, conservation activities in most areas of Southern Kerala is negligible. Protecting the turtles and their eggs are one of the most efficient ways of conserving them. This project is initiating a community-based conservation effort in the sporadic nesting sites of turtles.       

Shri Babu Raju Prasad, Range Forest Officer,
Social Forestry Wing, Kollam,
welcoming the fishermen folk of the
Chillakkal beach
             Marine turtle population is declining around the world due to the destruction of nesting sites, incidental catch, expansion of tourism industry, barriers in the beach such as sea wall, predation of eggs, or injuries/death during fishing activities is a threat for their existence. As a reason, their population is declining globally and India is no exception. Even though marine turtles cover the world’s tropical and subtropical waters, they are highly dependent on the beaches for nesting.

       TNHS has been conducting Marine and Coastal faunal observation studies along the coast of Kollam during the period 2018-2019. During our recent studies, we have observed that there are a few spots where Marine Turtles (Olive Ridleys) regularly visit to lay eggs each year. The Beaches at Vellanaathuruthu, Shakthikulangara, Pozhikkara, Kovilthottam, Lakshmipuram and Chillikkal are a few of the breeding spots observed by us, where these turtles come in good numbers to lay eggs during the breeding season. However, most of these eggs are being poached and sold in the local markets, amounting to several thousand in quantities, which needs to be curtailed. The turtles are also caught and sold; consumed as meat. These unlawful activities have drastically reduced the turtle population visiting each year and are posing a major threat to their very existence.

        We find an urgent need to protect these endangered species and implement a conservation project aimed at providing protective breeding habitat for these turtles. The project would take care of the entire breeding cycle, right from egg-laying, incubation and hatching phase till hatchlings are safely released to the sea. It's also important to educate the local population on the conservation need of these endangered species and the legal implications of unlawful poaching. The TNHS project team of conservationists would involve the local fisherfolk community for active support and close monitoring of the area during the project and enable and entrust them to take on sustained conservation efforts thereafter. The yearly breeding season commences by end of January and goes on till March-April, typically. We need to clear the permission formalities without delay so that we can start the project at the commencement of the upcoming breeding season itself. We shall send you a detailed proposal in a week, covering the overall program outline, budget and implementation plan.

Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, Research Associate, T.N.H.S explaining the techniques
contemplated for carrying out the entire project. 

        ‘Punarjani’ in brief strives to bring back the lost glory and reverse all these undesirable practices and its primary impetus is to educate and influence the fishermen community who dwells in these two beaches  on the need for conserving the endangered turtles, which begin first by safeguarding the eggs that are laid on sands and then protecting the hatchlings and adults as well. 

The project was formally launched at Chillakkalbeach on January 23,2020 at a brief function presided over by Shri S Hiralal, Asst Conservator of Foests (ACF), Social Forestry, Kollam. He stressed the need for conserving the turtles as it may even pave for turtle-based ecotourism in the not far off days. Shri Yakkoob, Ward Councillor and Chairman of Standing Committee (Health) in the Paravur Municipality inaugurated he project. In his inaugural speech, Shri Yakkoob declared that he would win over the hearts of the fishermen community in this matter. Yakkoob himself hails from their midst and he has already commenced campaigning for protecting the turtles well before the Forest Dept conceived the idea themselves. As a token of appreciation of this novel work, Shri Hiralal presented a memento to him. Shri K.B.Sanjayan of T.N.H.S described about the modus operandi  of the project in detail. Shri K.S.Jyothi, A.C.F, Social Forestry Extension Wing, Kollam  said the project is set to succeed if timely supervision is imparted without fail. Dr Kalesh S, specialist in the conservation strategies of various TNHS projects, said work in unison by all parties viz, Traditional Fisherfolk, Forest Dept, Municipality and TNHS would make the venture a grand success. Shri Anzil, who has been assigned the role of a liaison person for the implementation of the project also spoke on the occasion. Shri Ramesh Iyer, Co-ordinator, T.N.H.S delivered the welcome speech and Shri E.S.Suresh, Range Officer, Forest Dept proposed the vote of thanks.

Shri Anzil Sheriff , TNHS co-ordinator for the project discussing
plans with fishermen folks and social forestry officials

This year’s campaign for safeguarding the egg-laying and subsequent reproductive activities of the Olive Ridley turtles, off the Kollam coast was formally inaugurated at a small function held at Chillakkal Beach on 18 March 2021. Smt Khadija Beevi, Ward Councillor of the Paravur Municipality presided. Shri Babu Raju Prasad, Range Forest Officer, Social Forestry Wing, Kollam, welcomed the small gathering, mostly dominated by fishermen folk of the Chillakkal beach, which was the target audience. Shri K.B.Sanjayan, Co-ordinator of T.N.H.S delivered a speech highlighting the role played by Olive Ridley turtles on the economy of the fishermen community of the region and the urgent need for protecting the turtles from the angle of their survival and subsistence. These turtles devour marine algae (kadal chori) in large quantities which in turn contribute to the wealth of different varieties of fish. Protection has to start from the moment the turtles lay eggs on the beach under cover of the darkness. Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, Research Associate, T.N.H.S dwelt on the techniques contemplated for carrying out the entire project. Shri Anzil Sheriff who is co-ordinating the actual protection activities on the beach also addressed the gathering. Shri Abdul Samad, who is the contact person from among the local fishing folk also spoke on the occasion. Shri Anil Kumar., Social Forestry proposed the vote of thanks. 

Then all members of the Social Forestry wing and T.N.H.S made an on-the-spot inspection of the existing egg-laying areas of Chillakkal beach, Muttam beach and also parts of Mayyanad beach and identified the areas for installing barbed enclosures. They interacted with the fishing folks and school children and drove home the idea of protecting turtle eggs and hatchlings. It was also decided to put up hoardings to ward off miscreants by highlighting the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Punarjani team interacting with the fishing folks and school children
on the importance of protecting turtle eggs and hatchlings


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