Konkan Coast: A Sanctuary for Marine Turtles
Olive Ridley Turtles are incredibly beautiful marine turtles. Unlike tortoises, turtles live under water almost all the time, except… when they want to lay eggs. To lay eggs most sea turtles come to the shore. You must have heard about the Olive Ridley Turtles nesting on Orissa’s beaches. They have been in the news for years. However, if you can believe it, entire Konkan coast has been receiving Olive Ridley Turtles for many many years. Not just Olive Ridley Turtles but other species also like Green Turtle, Leatherback and Loggerhead. This never was apparent partially because of negligence of local media but mostly due to the apathy or lack of awareness among the locals about their conservation. I am often amazed that we don’t understand this gift called nature that we have and we literally strangle its throat in our own ignorance. I am glad at some point in time I was closely associated with the only organization that was working in this region for nature conservation rather ferociously: Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra . They have done incredible work since years and spread awareness to save species like Indian Swiftlet, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental White-backed Vultures and more. It’s because of them that the tiny hamlet of Velas on the Konkan has been in the news as a heaven for marine turtles. In fact, these days the locals have come forward to collaborate with the forest department to hold the annual Turtle Festivals.
I was pleasantly surprised last year to realise that Velas isn’t the only place on the Maharashtra coast where these turtles visit. The turtles visit every year all along the coast. In fact, starting from Velas, Kelshi they have been visiting Dabhol, a few beaches around Ratnagiri and more southwards in Sindhudurg for so many years. Most females return faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested. But as Pradip mentioned rather sheepishly, they would end up in the bellies of the locals for a merry night. Pradip and his cousin volunteered to do this conservation work on the relatively less known shore of Gaonkhadi just 40 min drive from Ratnagiri and were endorsed by the forest department to make their work official. It’s not an easy job to conserve these turtles. The turtle females usually visit at night to lay eggs and leave trace marks on the sand as they crawl. That’s how Pradip and his colleagues would know where the nesting could be. Then they would mark these locations and lay a fence around. “It takes about 90 days before the eggs hatch. This gives us an approximate idea as the actual day might change depending on how hot the sand is”, he tells me casually. That’s more than 3 months of 24 hour vigil on the beach folks, not an easy task! The nests need to be protected from all kinds of threats like foxes, dogs even humans! For the eggs could get stolen at night, he and his cousins take turns keeping vigil at night. When the eggs hatch and the little hatchlings see the world for the first time, they still are not safe. They could be the meal for one of the birds of prey while on the way to freedom.
Thus they are released manually either in the morning or in the evening when the sand temperature is conducive. The females lay eggs around December and January. I did several trips last year to this beach just to get some nice photographs of these cute little friends and release some of them myself. I can tell you I flt really good. You can visit these beaches in Konkan to see this celebration of life first hand. Last few years, the efforts to spread awareness about wildlife conservation have increased and being recognised. Just last month, India received a certificate for combating illegal wildlife trade. Consistent efforts through awareness along with strict action to curb wildlife trade should help protect the natural diversity. Operation Save Kurma is one such effort by the Government of India.