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Updated: June 7, 2013 13:08 IST

Olive Ridleys hit highs and lows

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So far, around 21,000 little Ridleys from the Marina-Neelankarai stretch have been released into the sea — Photo: M. Karunakaran
The Hindu So far, around 21,000 little Ridleys from the Marina-Neelankarai stretch have been released into the sea — Photo: M. Karunakaran

During the season, around 200 Ridley turtles were found dead on the coastline from Marina to Neelankarai, but 285 nests were also found on this stretch

In about a couple of weeks, the last batch of Olive Ridley hatchlings will flap their tiny flippers and waddle into the sea.

That will bring to a close a breeding season that has evoked mixed reactions among conservationists. During the season, around 200 Ridley turtles were found dead on the coastline from Marina to Neelankarai.

On the positive side, 285 nests were found on this stretch — the highest ever recorded by the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN).

“This all-time high follows what appeared to be a depressing low. In 2012, about 120 nests were discovered on the 14-km stretch and in 2011, about 145 were found,” said V. Arun, coordinator of SSTCN. This year, volunteers of SSTCN bid farewell to around 21,000 little Ridleys and will, very shortly, say goodbye to another 1,000.

Volunteers of TREE Foundation, who scour the coastal stretch from Neelankarai to Alamparai, around 50 km from Mamallapuram, have a slightly differently story to tell. On this stretch, 214 dead turtles were found. The nesting activity was not high enough to offset this depressing figure.

“This season, we found just 295 nests,” said Supraja Dharani, founder of Tree Foundation. Given the length of the stretch, around 90 km, the number is a disappointment, she said.

In the 2011 season, the Foundation’s volunteers released 51,000 baby Ridleys into the sea. “This year, we found only 30,000 eggs,” said Dharani.

Sharp variations such as these can be explained through diverse theories. “A cyclical dip-and-rise pattern is one. In other words, an impressive nesting year will be followed by a sharp dip in numbers. In contrast, there can be periods when the numbers stay stable. When it comes to Ridleys, an element of unpredictability cannot be dismissed. However, a close scrutiny will uncover a variety of underlying factors,” said Akila Balu, another coordinator at SSTCN.

“It is widely believed that habitat destruction on one stretch often contributes to a sudden surge in Ridley hatchings on another nearby stretch,” said Arun. “Development activities — such as erection of seawalls and groynes, which is the case on the northern section of the coastline — can move the Ridley population to a nearby location,” he said.

Besides making the shoreline Ridley-friendly, a drive has to be launched to protect the ones in the sea, experts said. “Use of trawl and gill nets is the root cause of Ridley deaths. This year, our volunteers freed around 120 sea turtles trapped in such nets,” said Dharani.

Arun gave an astounding figure to drive home the loss due to the failure to check adult Ridley deaths. “Considering an Olive Ridley nests twice during the season, a death of 200 Ridleys means a loss of around 40,000 eggs. Of them, close to 20,000 would have made it to the sea,” he said.

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