Social Forestry wing initiative to save Olive Ridley turtles, migratory birds

Migratory birds and nesting turtles may soon find Kerala a safer haven, if the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department succeeds in harnessing the efforts of wildlife enthusiasts for a unique conservation initiative.

The Social Forestry wing of the Forest Department is teaming up with various citizen groups to offer optimum nesting and breeding facilities for the avian visitors and marine turtles. Named Green Partners, the citizen-centric conservation programme seeks to enhance biodiversity and improve ecosystem services outside forests.

In Kerala, where there is significant wildlife outside forests, creating awareness and gaining citizen support is the best strategy for conservation, says Bransdon Corrie, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Social Forestry).

Hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles visit the shores of Kerala every year. Guided by an uncanny homing instinct, they travel thousands of kilometres, returning to the same beach where they were born, to lay eggs in the sand.

Five species of sea turtles, namely Olive Ridley, Green Turtle, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Leatherback, were once known to visit the Kerala coast. But over the last few years, only the Olive Ridley has been reported from the State, and that too in diminishing numbers. During the nesting period from August to February, each turtle lays 75 to 200 eggs before returning to the sea. The eggs take 45 days to hatch, when they remain buried in the sand.

The Green Partners programme seeks to widen the support base for turtle conservation and improve the capacity of individuals and groups actively involved in the effort. “We hope to do this through a coordinated, scientific effort involving foresters, researchers, NGOs, and citizen groups”, Dr. Corrie told The Hindu.

The Social Forestry wing is organising a workshop at the Mathoottam Forest Complex, Kozhikode, on Monday to enhance awareness among coastal communities and develop scientific protocols for turtle conservation. The workshop, to be attended by experts from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Kerala Forest Research Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature - India, is expected to come up with standardisation of site-specific and strategic plans and create a wider support base for turtle conservation. A

ccording to Renjan Mathew, State director, WWF- India, networking of turtle conservation groups is critical in ensuring the sustainable maintenance of nesting habitats. “Creating awareness among coastal communities and strengthening of the enforcement machinery are equally important,” he says.