It's that time of the year again when organisations and individuals join forces for the Turtle Walk, to help our endangered friends from the sea. Why don't you join them?

It's been a month since the Chennai seacoast has turned into a breeding ground for the endangered sea turtles. The sea turtles still remain one of the most mysterious and time-honoured creatures on Earth.

And the species of turtles that nests on the Eastern coast of India during December-April are the Olive Ridleys. And to those interested in the scientific specifics, it is called Lepidochelys Olivacea!

Ensuring safety

As we all know, huge campaigns are now on to ensure the safety of the eggs and hatchlings in the Chennai seacoast and people are conducting awareness programmes and getting involved in beach clean-ups in an effort to save the Olive Ridleys. If at all you are new to this, it's called ‘The Turtle Walk'!

The Turtle Walk involves various groups of environment-conscious people who take a walk on a beach in the middle of the night stopping every now and then in search of eggs and hatchlings of the Olive Ridleys.

The teams who patrol the beach initially look for tracks of a turtle caused by its feet and back flippers while it drags itself across the sand. Once the tracks are found, they search for the nest that the turtle digs to lay its eggs. These eggs are then transferred to a hatchery, where they will be kept safely for hatching. Once hatched, the hatchlings are released into the sea.

Now, the obvious question is: why go through all this trouble? The beaches are visited by thousands of people every day and there is always a fear of the turtles being disturbed. Also crows and dogs dig up the nests and eat the eggs.

Another bigger threat is the effect of urbanisation and night time lighting. The bright night lights distract the Ridleys and the hatchlings. Instead of going towards the sea, they begin to move towards the brighter horizon and ultimately stray towards human habitation.

While the hatchlings are prone to attacks by crows and dogs, the bigger turtles face the danger of getting caught in coastal vegetation or being run over by vehicles.

Activists and those concerned about wildlife conservation point out that it is vital to provide shade from the bright lights facing the beach. They have taken up this issue with the Government of India. The result? An assurance has been given that all the mast lights will be put out until April 10 and this will follow in the years to come as well.

Joint effort

A number of organisations has come up with the Turtle Saving Campaign and one such is The EZONE. EZONE has now launched the “Save A Turtle” campaign. They interact with local people to create an awareness about the plight of endangered species and the state of coastal environment.

Hafiz Khan, its experiential learning facilitator, revealed that they search for crawls and look for turtle nests and eggs in the company of naturalist Dr. Supraja Dharani from the TREE Foundation who guides them. He speaks of the wonder of watching the turtles lay eggs and the hatchlings emerge 45 days later, from the ‘belly of Mother Earth'. He says, even if one doesn't get to see a host of turtles, people will enjoy the excitement of combing the beach either in pitch darkness or under a bright moon light.

Fascinating creatures

Speaking to some of my friends who take part in the Turtle Walk, I got to know some interesting facts about sea turtles. For instance, the hatchlings will turn out to be male if the eggs have a cooler temperature surrounding them and female when the nest stays warm.

They also pointed out that the main reason that helps the turtles prevent dehydration is their ability to cry out the salt that they consume. Amazing, isn't it!

One of them even took it further, illustrating that thousands of female turtles emerge from the sea and nest simultaneously for two to three days after their mating period at some of very restricted and important breeding sites. These arribadas (‘mass arrivals' in Spanish) is an important reason why the turtles are still here with us!

While plastic bottles and bags do not belong to the beaches, the turtles are desperately trying hard to belong! Let's do our bit to help ensure that these creatures remain a part of the ocean environment forever. Be the one to make a change and help us save one of the oldest living vertebrates on Earth from going into extinction.

Here's an opportunity to make a difference to the environment around you. Welcome the Olive Ridley Turtle Trail! To leave a footprint on the sands of time, call Hafiz @ 99401 42349.

Turtle talk

The Olive Ridleys are believed to have been roaming the Earth since 150 million years ago, a period when even the dinosaurs were not around!

Turtles may live up to be 100 years old.

The Olive Ridleys have a rusty-coloured carapace weighing approximately 45 kg and their average length is about 70 cm.

They have a deeper body and slightly up-turned edges to their carapace.

Once slaughtered indiscriminately for their meat and leather, Olive Ridleys are yet to recover from centuries of over-exploitation.

The illegal harvest of their eggs continues, and there is also high mortality of adults due to coastal fisheries that do not use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets.

Praveen is a Final Year Information Technology student at Rajalakshmi Engineering College..