Increasing number of humans threating their nesting ground, the Olive Ridley Turtle may soon be extinct. Turtle walk and help save these hard-shelled beings. The moon was full and high, against the sandy beach and the air was uncharacteristic nippy for that time of year. Thirty college students in shorts, their bags filled with snacks, arrived at chennai’s Neelankarai beach a little after 11 p.m Christened the Turtle walk, believe it or not, all 30 of us had come to witness a magnificent yet quickly disappearing event- the nesting of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.
TURTLES ON THE SHORE
What started out for many to be night out in the city beyond hostel curfew, soon became a night to remember aided by alive, never seen before. In Chennai, Besant Nagar beach is a popular hangout for the youth, Neelankarai beach, it’s just little way off, is relatively good to see, for most of us are unseen. A walk, two rickshaw rides followed by the another little bit walk then finally reach that destination. Here, few rules like no smoking and drinks in this place, sat around the volunteers (sstcn) for a prologue of what we were plan to see that night. After that, we sat off on the 7km turtle walk down the beach to try and catch the endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtle nesting on the beach. Barely walked five minutes when an unfortunate sight greeted us. The carcass of a full-grown female Olive Ridley sea turtle lay on the sand, a good bit from the shore. The SSTCN volunteers quickly lead us ahead and started telling more about the sea turtle and its nesting habits.
THE CYCLE OF LIFE
The Olive Ridley travels the world’s water but nests in the same place they were born. Soo the same turtles that have been spotted on Australian shores have also been seen on the Indian Coastline. The Olive Ridley male and female turtles mate anywhere between the period of September and December. While the male swims off, the females returns to the shores of their bith to nest. Their nesting season is between January and April, and the first destination on the Indian coastline is usually the fishing villages of Orissa. They then travels downwards to the Tamil Nadu coast, which is when SSTCN organises these turtle walks for students and other interested, in order to increase the awareness about that endangered species.
Starting out way back in 1988, the SSTCN comprises young people dedicated to the cause of saving this endangered species and conserving the environment. During the turtle walks, they trace turtle nests and collect the eggs that have been laid. On average, an Olive Ridely lays about 100 off-white eggs. After they scour the entire beach and collect eggs, they relocate then to safety to a hatchery at Besant Nagar and on Marine beach which are located in Chennai. This is the place done to save the eggs and the hatchlings from the risk of being eaten by dogs, run over by vehicles or getting entangled in vegetation. Further, civilisation severely hampers the probability of the hatchlings survival. As people continue to build houses closer to the shore, they are not only violating coastal regulation but also endangered these turtles. By nature, the hatchlings are attached towards bright lights, as the light of the sun and moon reflects off the water and shows them the way to home. However, with increasing lights along the beach, then disoriented the wrong direction of hatchlings, thereby increasing their risk of getting killed. Therefore, without any doubtfully SSTCN are help to much safer in that place for hatchery. Once the hatchling emerge 45days later, the volunteers release them in the sea.
ALL EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Within another 10minutes of the turtle walk, we got to witness what the SSTCN volunteers do. We spotted a nest with about 90 eggs in it. The nest is basically a hole that the mother turtle digs in the sand and them covers up to camouflage, after it has laid the eggs. A probe was used to find out the exact location of the next, after that which we all pitched in and dug the sand with our hands to reveal the pot of gold. SSTCN, carefully removed each egg and placed them in one bags this whole process carrying by volunteers. Visitors taking picture with that volunteers. The tracks the turtle left in the sand were barely five-minutes old. So if just had set off a little earlier and caught an live show.
The night continued and so did the walk, during which they spotted many more nests, though none as fresh as the first. The end of the journey was a peek into the SSTCN’s hatchery at Besant Nagar beach. It was dawn by now and we knew this is only because of skies warned of the sun’s impending arrival.We had walked about 7km on sand, a workout in itself but the result was worth it. Though, they hadn’t been able to catch the actual nesting process, seeing the tracks, holding the eggs and walking the beach on that full moon night reward enough.
- Olive Ridely derives its name from the colour of its shell.
- SSTCN(Students Sea Turtel Conservation Network), founded by Kartik Shanker, established its first hatchery in December 1988.
- The turtle walks are organised for the public between January and April during the nesting season on weekends between 11 p.m and 4 a.m, they take place at Neelankarai Beachin Chennai.
- The SSTCN also fought a battle against the World Bank during the tsunami coastal rehabilitation programme, regarding plantation of Casuarina trees, fast growing species to protect the fishing villages along the shore.
- In order to join the turtle walks , visitors can contact any one of the following people:
Indigo Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, Indian Airlines, Go Air, Air Asia and Air India Express are major airlines that offers daily flights to Chennai from most major cities.
Opera Residency is 0.8 km away from Besant Nagar, Srisubham is 0.9 km away from Besant Nagar, Lifestyle Residence is 0.9 km away from Besant Nagar, Taj Kazura is 1.3 km away from Besant Nagar and Esthell Hotel is 1.6 km away from Besant Nagar.