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May 21, 2018

VIDEO: Indian conservationists help thousands of olive ridley turtle hatchlings head to the sea

HSI/India's seventh year in turtle conservation sees focus on local community collaboration and participation

Humane Society International/India

India—Humane Society International/India and partner Action for Protection of Wild Animals, have released more than 5,000 olive ridley sea turtle hatchlings (and counting) this nesting season to the Bay of Bengal. The release is part of a conservation program aimed at recruiting local fishing communities in the area to create local leaders in conservation to help protect the vulnerable marine reptiles. The turtle conservation project is in its seventh year, the last two of which have been sponsored by Cox & Kings, a travel and tourism company, as a part of their social responsibility efforts.

Listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the turtles are recovering from a sharp decline in numbers a decade ago. Every year the state of Odisha on the eastern coast of India plays host to the largest gathering of olive ridleys in the world as the turtles come ashore for a mass nesting event known as ‘arribada’, derived from the Spanish word for arrival. For up to six months every year, fishing is suspended by law to prevent turtles becoming entangled and drowned in nets, a conservation necessity that risks fueling resentment from locals whose livelihoods are badly affected.

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Fishing entanglement is not the only threat to these turtles. The rapid pace of development in the state means that the shore of the Bay of Bengal includes several ports, shipbuilding yards and a petro-chemical manufacturing hub, which in turn have led to beach erosion and disturbance, driving some turtles to nest closer to the villages where they are vulnerable to predation. Their eggs are also at risk of depredation from both people and dogs for food while the tiny hatchlings running the gauntlet to the sea can also fall prey to feral dogs and pigs.

The turtles need all the help they can get, but ultimately their future depends on the local people embracing and adopting ownership of their conservation. To achieve that, HSI/India and APOWA work together on sustained direct intervention to train local people in safely relocating vulnerable turtle eggs and releasing hatchlings to the sea. It’s a model for change that gives the turtles a fighting chance while providing livelihoods at the same time. Since 2014, the program has artificially incubated and released more than 150,000 olive ridley hatchlings.

Sumanth Madhav, wildlife campaign manager for the animal welfare charity Humane Society International /India, said, “Our aim is to reduce the animosity of the local fishing community towards these turtles, and help them to realize that if they want healthy fish stocks, they should protect turtles as the fisherman’s friend. Since the beginning, our emphasis has been on creating a model where the onus is on the local people to save these beautiful creatures. They need to feel invested in protecting them otherwise the turtles will have no future here. We organize community beach clean ups to remove marine debris, and daily beach patrols during nesting season to deter predators and promote in-situ conservation. And every year in January we train local volunteers in how to relocate vulnerable turtle nests so that the eggs can hatch safely in the artificial hatcheries that we’ve built. After about 45 days, the eggs hatch and then the next phase of hands-on conservation comes into play when our volunteers work by moonlight to help the tiny hatchlings make it safely to the sea.”

“There is immense effort that has gone into moving the needle when it comes to saving the olive ridley turtles. We are now in such a critical phase where we are creating this model to benefit these local communities, so that they carry on the efforts sincerely, “ he added.

Media Contact: Neelam Naseeb| nnaseeb@hsi.org | 9205104695

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