Saturday, May 1, 2021

Olive Ridley Turtle Hatchlings Released to Sea

Seven species of turtles are found in the warm waters of seas in the temperate-tropical zone. Of these five species make a visit to the Indian coast annually for laying of eggs and rearing. They nest all along the Indian coastline of Bay of Bengal in the east and Arabian sea in the west. Of these Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) outnumber all others in numbers in visiting the Indian shore. Eastern coast is having larger nesting areas. Gahirmatha and Rishikulya in Odisha are globally recognized massive nesting sites.   

When it comes to the western coast of India, massive nesting sites are not reported. Only few sites are known where egg laying is very sporadic and moderate. In Kerala,  only very few  turtles are making the annual trip for laying of eggs. Neeleswaram beach in Kasaragod, Kozhavippalam in Kozhikkode, Chavakkad beach in Guruvayur in Thrissur, Kuzhippilli and Cherai beaches in Ernakulam, Thottappali beach in Alappuzha, Chiillikkal, Pozhikkara and Mukkam beaches in Kollam and Vizhinjam beach in Thiruvananthapuram are the major landing sites for these turtles in Kerala. As per an established pattern, northern Kerala shores receive the highest number of turtles, while their number decreases as one travels to the south.

Visit of Olive Ridley turtles in Kollam is sporadic. They have been laying eggs on the shores of Chillikkal, Pozhikkara and Mukkam beaches in Paravur coast, notably because these are the only gaps without a seawall erected as a measure against sea erosion. These turtles crawl freely to the shore  under the cover of darkness, dig pits in the sand some of which are large as to hold up to 100 of its eggs. In course of nearly two months, when the eggs hatch, hatchlings are led back to the sea by themselves as if by instinct. Parental care is sparsely observed in these species of turtles.There have been large scale losses of these eggs at the hands of miscreants who steal them and sell for a paltry sum. It is also not uncommon that adult turtles which may get entrapped in fishing nets are often slaughtered for its flesh which fetches higher amounts in the black market. While the major nesting sites of Olive Ridley turtles are well identified and managed , sites where turtles make only sporadic or erratic visits are not seriously managed, not to speak about its protection. Owing to the sporadic nature finding exact position of their nesting sites and arranging for its protection poses serious challenges in southern Kerala. Consequently conservation activities in most sites in southern Kerala is negligible. Protecting the turtles and their eggs are one of the most efficient way of conserving them. 

The Thiruvananthapuram-based N.G.O working in the field of nature conservation and environment protection, Travancore Nature History Society (T.N.H.S), has seized of this situation in 2020 and initiated a community-based conservation effort in the sporadic nesting sites of turtles with the active co-operation and help of the Department of Forests and Wildlife of the Government of Kerala. It has conceived a novel project ‘Punarjani’ and selected Chillikkal beach near Paravur, Kollam district to implement it at the first instance. It was formally launched on January 23, 2020 at Chillikkal beach at a brief function presided over by Shri S Heeralal, Asst Conservator of Forests (ACF), Social Forestry, Kollam. But, to the disgust of T.N.H.S and Social Forestry wing, Kollam, Olive Ridley Turtles did not choose Chillikkal beach for egg laying.

This year’s campaign for safeguarding the egg-laying and subsequent reproductive activities of the Olive Ridley turtles, off the Kollam coast were 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 in 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 in 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.

Following the function, There was brisk activity. 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, Mukkam beach and also parts of Mayyanad beach and  identified the areas for installing barbed enclosures. There were four sites where the turtles have laid pits. Round the clock vigil was ensured under the supervision of Shri Abdul Samad, who was meanwhile inducted into the Forest Department as a casual employee. 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.    Saturday 10th April, 2021 broke out with the glad news of hatching of first batch of turtle babies. On getting information from Abdul Salam, T.N.H.S members in charge of Punarjani reached the site of the nest pit and provided protection to the hatchlings. Forest Dept was also alert. It was then decided to release the hatchlings at 6.00 pm on April 10 itself. There were 62 hatchlings.

At the releasing Ceremony, Shri Siddique, Conservator of Forests, Southern Regional Office, Kollam, Shri Anil Kumar A.C.F, Social Forestry, Shri Babu Raju Prasad, Range Forest Officer, (S.F) and Shri.E.S. Suresh were present. The T.N.H.S contingent was led by Shri K.Jayakumar, Director, Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, Shri Anzil Sheriff and Shri Shaji Ponnu, both of Punarjani Project, Shri Vinay, Treasurer, Shri M.R.Kiran and K.B.Sanjayan. Shri Abdul Salam, who was carrying out the crucial commendable vigilance work was also present. The releasing ceremony went off smoothly without hindrance. Now members are waiting for the hatching of next batch of eggs.  

In News

Punarjani to take up rescue of Olive Ridley turtles in Kerala - The New Indian Express 16th April 2021

1 comment:

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