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In the steps of the Olive Ridley

09Apr

Source – Times of India

At 7 am, when most are waking up to a lazy weekend, Ratnagiri’s Velas beach, 200 kms from Pune, is buzzing with
activity. Visitors stand on either side of a ‘roped aisle’, cameras in hand, for what’s one of the year’s most awaited ‘red carpet walks’. As
volunteers release the day’s first batch of Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings, cameras go off. As though choreographed, babies make their way into the sea, guided by the morning sun.

Regulars know, the on-going annual turtle festival, held from February to March, isn’t one in the true sense, but a local effort that combines environmental conservation with village tourism to protect the endangered Olive Ridleys from mass casualty. If uninitiated, this is your chance to head there, to experience a rare moment, while you support the cause.

Poachers to protectors
“Olive Ridleys have nested along Maharashtra’s coast for years. They face danger of extinction owing to fishing, trawling and the fact that 99 per cent of their eggs are stolen,” says Bhau Katdare, who heads Chiplun-based animal protection organisation Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM). “For years, locals were stealing them for sale and consumption. We realised that conservation would only be possible if we involved locals in the process,” Bhau adds.
Today, locals are involved in every step of the process: surveying the beach for eggs, collecting and transferring them into
artificial hatcheries which are monitored till the eggs hatch. The babies are then collected and released twice a day. This is a highlight of the festival that’s jointly organised by SNM, Kasav Mitra Mandal (Velas), the gram panchayat and the forest department.

Leaving…only to return
On release, when the hatchlings head to the sea, they record the place’s geomagnetic field intensity, remembering it till they return as adults. “This is a key moment in their lives,” says Bhau. “Fifteen years later, the females from the batch will reappear to nest and lay eggs at the exact spot of their birth. They will hatch 50-60 days later. And the cycle goes on.” Till date, through the efforts of the locals, over 75,000 hatchlings have been released.

You won’t be lucky always
Of the 150 odd eggs a female turtle lays, there are 60 per cent chances of hatchling emergence. So, even if you’re on time at the beach, chances are you might not catch a release. City-based Rohan Ratnapal, who visited Velas last weekend with a group of Puneites, says, “There was a drop in temperature, owing to which, hatchlings had come out of their nests, but hadn’t surfaced above the sand. So we couldn’t catch any release.” Going by calculations from past experiences, SNM declares hatchling emergence from time to time on their Facebook page, after which one can plan a trip in the next two days. But, one could even get lucky at times. Rohan recalls, “During our visit last year, thought didn’t get catch a release, we were lucky to sight a female turtle who came to survey the beach and lay eggs that evening. The forest department ably controlled the excited lot of visitors till the turtle made her way back to the sea.” This, he said, is quite a rare sight.

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