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May 2, 2013

Saving Olive Ridley Turtles

Humane Society International/India

  • Ensuring safe passage, at least to the water's edge. HSI

  • One of the hatchlings. HSI

  • HSI staff and volunteers. HSI

by Keren Nazareth

Orissa, India is one of the most important breeding grounds for Olive Ridley turtles in the Indian Ocean. In the past few years, due to bad weather, increased trawlers, construction of ports, and predators such as feral dogs and pigs, many nests have not reached maturation and hatchlings have died. The number of nesting sites decreased from 637,000 in 2011 to 172,800 in 2012.

Last year, HSI India collaborated with Action for Protection of Wild Animals to try to save some of these turtles. A total of 7,897 were recovered and released into the ocean during the project period. Based on this success, the Forest Department granted permission to attempt more rescues in 2013.

Community protectors

“I knew these turtles were dying in large numbers as they would end up trapped in trawl nets. I used to get upset when I saw these dead turtles floating in water. After the HSI training, I understood that these turtles are actually feeding on jellyfish that predate on the fishes that we catch! They are in fact helping us. We should all help each other, that is how we will survive.

"I feel bad that so many illegal trawlers still go out during the turtle breeding season and kill them in thousands. Our village is of traditional fishermen; we only catch to consume. I will do my bit to help the turtles and try to repair the damage done by others. The ocean belongs to all, us and the sea turtles.”—Pradipta Maity, volunteer

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The project has actively engaged youths from local communities, many of whom are fishermen. HSI's Soham Mukherjee found in speaking with them that they are concerned about the welfare and conservation of the Ridleys, too.

Training volunteers

The HSI team carried taught volunteers about safe nest excavation, hatchling release, nest protection and monitoring, beach patrolling, imparting education to others and hatchery management. The volunteers do night patrols to guard against predatory attacks, educate visiting tourists, monitor nests, dig out eggs that are ready to hatch, and collect and immediately release new hatchlings into the ocean to help avoid disorientation due to artificial lights on the beach.

The volunteers identify and mark nests, then either move the eggs to a hatchery or cover the area with protective wire mesh. They minimize handling of eggs and hatchlings except as required for documentation. An average nest contains around 110 eggs. Several thousand have already been collected.

Changing attitudes

HSI's Soham Mukherjee said, "I always look forward to community participation in conservation activities. This year, I went and met with local youth groups in the coastal villages and got a better response than I would in a city. The participation is catching up even with minimal effort and I am happy about it.

"When people understand the science behind the importance of these sea turtles, and their relation to us, it only makes sense to maintain the balance of all species. The locals' perception of the sea turtles is slowing changing from 'competitors for resources' to 'healthy ocean keepers,' and that, I feel, is our biggest achievement." Support our work.

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