Much like their fate elsewhere, the Olive Ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea ) in Puducherry are an endangered species of sea turtles along the coastline here. For the past couple of years, a student of marine biology, with some help from friends and a few Forest officials, has been engaged in the conservation of these vulnerable species.
“We put sticks around the nests, or take them to a safer location and try to dig a hole with the same temperature but it is difficult to recreate the natural environment without the proper amenities,: says Adwaita Banerjee, a student of Marine Biology from Annamalai University. This endangered species of sea turtles is usually caught in fishing trawlers due to which they die as fishermen are not cautious. The eggs have to be safe-guarded from predators such as dogs and seagulls. Some villagers even steal and sell the eggs which are considered a delicacy in local arrack shops.
“Both laying and hatching happen from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the morning all along the coast but we patrolled the beach near Ariankuppam with some positive results,” says Mr. Adwaita Banerjee. In his conservation efforts, he gets a helping hand from his father Probir Banerjee, friends and a few officials from the Forest Department. He says sometimes the volunteers have to seek help from the police as the villagers create mayhem when they spot them protecting the mass nesting spots called arribadas. Due to the small size of the turtles, they get caught in fishing nets and are found dead in huge numbers on shores. An estimated number of 3,000 Olive Ridleys were found dead on the eastern coast of Orissa and in 2014, as recent as February, 900 of these specimens were found dead along the coast of Andhra Pradesh, the volunteers said.
Due to scarcity of volunteers, most hatching spots are not covered and that results in the mass deaths of these turtles.
The Olive Ridleys lay eggs in the months of March and April. It takes approximately 60 days for the eggs to hatch. Each female turtle lays 100-200 eggs. The eggs hatch around full moon as they can see the direction to the sea but these days , due to the glare from city lights, they crawl inland and die, the volunteers said.