T. S. Atul Swaminathan
G. Ezhumalai and T. A. Pugazh arasan might look like any other youth, but what sets them apart from others is their focus and determination. They embarked on a journey, traversing across the State coastline, creating awareness of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and endangered marine species among the fishing community and the general public.
Carrying a turtle float and awareness posters on the ecological role of marine species, they covered more than 400 fishing hamlets in Chennai, Kancheepuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Kanyakumari, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanthapuram and Tuticorin, from Dec. 3 to Jan. 7.
‘When Kadal Amai Padhukavalargall (KAP) (TREE Foundation’s Sea Turtle Protection Force) was formed in December 2002, the youth from fishing hamlets in Periya Neelankarai, Injambakkam, Panaiyur, Nainar Kuppam, and Kannathur started the community-based sea turtle conservation programme covering 13 km along the coast. Now they are covering around 120 km from Periya Neelankarai to Marakkanam.
“Every year during January to May, we monitor the nests, protect the nestling turtles and hatchlings in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department and the Indian Coast Guard,” G. Ezhumalai said.
“There is a low awareness among the fishing community in Nagapattinam about these creatures. Only in the Gulf of Mannar, where endangered marine species are frequent visitors, we constituted a team of people to protect and monitor the turtles, dolphins, dugongs, whales and sea cucumbers,” G. Ezhumalai noted.
“During the Tree Foundation’s Annual Sea Turtle Protection Force Meeting for Turtle Season 2013, C. V. Sankar, Principal Secretary, Environment and Forests, encouraged us to implement the campaign along the entire coast of Tamil Nadu to generate awareness among Tamil Nadu fishermen,” T. A. Pugazharasan pointed out.
The young men created awareness of the importance of marine organisms, their importance to marine bio-diversity through audio presentations and distribution of pamphlets.
“We felt very proud, when fishermen in Manapad, a coastal village in Tuticorin took a vow to protect the endangered species.
The Sea Turtles are listed as endangered marine species, and protected under Schedule 1, (Part II) of ‘Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972’. A person, if found to be in possession of adult turtles, hatchlings and turtle eggs can be sentenced to seven-years rigorous imprisonment, and a fine of Rs. 25,000,” Ezhumalai and Pugazharasan said.
As turtles are air breathing reptiles they need to come up to the surface of the sea to breathe every 40-45 minutes. They are threatened by gill nets and trawler boats without Turtle Excluder Devise (TED) in the sea during the turtle season.
“The TREE Foundation compensates for nets to fishermen while releasing entangled turtles in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Villupuram,” G. Ezhumalai said. G. Ezhumalai and T. A. Pugazharasan can be contacted at 95519 98475 and 98402 10952.
The youth have covered fishing hamlets in Chennai, Cuddalore, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur, and Kancheepuram.