The annual meet of Tree Foundation’s Sea Turtle Protection Force (STPF) was held on December 2, at the Foundation’s Interpretation Centre, Neelankarai. C.V. Shankar, Principal Secretary, Environment and Forests, Government of Tamil Nadu, presided over the meeting. More than 40 members of STPF from 20 coastal villages from Neelankarai to Eggiar Kuppam attended the meeting.

The STPF members were honoured by Mr. Shankar for protecting the endangered Olive Ridley turtles and their nests by patrolling the beaches during nesting season from December 2011 to January 2012. Incentives were also given to fishermen, who safely released the turtles entangled in their nets back into the sea. More than 30 turtles were released between January and March 2012.

Dr. Supraja Dharini, Chairperson, Tree Foundation, said: “This is the first effort by Tree Foundation to involve the local fishing community youth and children in conservation of Ridley turtles. We create an awareness among people in the fishing community as to why the sea turtle needs protection, why all the wealth of the ocean has to be used in a sustainable wayand how as individuals one can help.”

The nestling season starts from January to April, during which time members patrol the beaches and protect the eggs. After a period of 45 to 50 days, the hatchlings are let into the sea, Dr. Dharini pointed out.

Around 22, 850 turtles were rescued in 2012 by the foundation.

“Our aim is to educate other members of the fishing community, and reach more villages for marine conservation. The members of the STPF impart training to officials of Department of Environment and Forests, on conservation of sea turtles. We want to extend the conservation project throughout Tamil Nadu by involving the community and State Department of Wildlife and Environment,” Dr. Dharini added. Appreciating the systematic methodology used by the STPF members in the conservation, Mr. Shankar said: “The model could be an international model of involving local community in marine conservation along with Department of Forests and Fisheries and Indian Coast Guard.

The Department of Environment and Forests would extend its support in implementing the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle conservation project along the coast of Tamil Nadu.”

Tree Foundation is a trust for environment education, conservation and community development.

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