The Villupuram Forest Department will soon be establishing its second artificial hatchery for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles along the district’s coastline as part of its conservation initiative to protect turtle nests.
With the nesting season for Olive Ridleys commencing from January, fishermen led by the Forest Department have been engaged in collecting the eggs and assisted-hatching by fanning across the 32-km-long coastline of Villupuram district.
P. Ponnivel, 35, a fisherman of Vasuvankuppam has been part of the conservation programme for more than a decade now. He and two of his friends go for a stroll as early as 1 a.m. on the stretch from Alagankuppam to Anichakuppam looking for the distinct ‘turtle track’ left behind by the reptiles while making their way towards the shore. On Saturday, Ponnivel collected about 479 eggs from four nests on the stretch.
“Once the eggs are collected from these places, they are taken to the hatchery to be kept under supervision of the volunteers. The eggs begin to hatch 50 days from the days they are laid. The season lasts till April, sometimes extending up to late May,” he said.
The Villupuram coastline falls on the migratory route to Odisha used by these turtles listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The Olive Ridley is one of only two species of sea turtles that engage in “arribada’’ nesting (Spanish for mass migration), where large groups of females assemble at a nesting site on the beach.
According to District Forest Officer Sumesh Soman, “The Forest Department, with the help of youth from Vasuvankuppam and surrounding villages near Marakkanam, have identified 39 turtle nests from 16 villages on the coastline and collected about 4,168 eggs since the commencement of the nesting season so far. The team has also been sensitising fishermen in coastal settlements to the importance of protecting the eggs.”
The existing hatchery at Vasuvankuppam has almost reached its full capacity. Hence, the epartment has planned to set up another hatchery. This will cover 18 coastal hamlets and eggs collected from nests in these villages will be taken to the second hatchery. The department will also be roping in more volunteers who will assist the Forest Department to patrol the coastline for turtle eggs, he said.
According to Tindivanam Forest Range Officer R.M. Perumal, “In early December every year, the department personnel begin by contacting the fishermen in the coastal villages. We earlier faced problems as the turtle nests remained unguarded. Miscreants would steal them while predation of nests by feral dogs and jackals was also a major problem. The Department has been sensitising the locals and over the year, several volunteers from the fishing community joined the drive to collect the eggs.”
Mr. Soman pointed out that the department had also planned for a hand-in-hand approach with civil society organisations in Olive Ridley breeding and conservation management. A proposal for turtle conservation in collaboration with Royal Enfield under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme has been sent to the Chief Wildlife Warden for approval.
“We have planned to conduct training workshops for FriendsofSeaTurtles (FST) volunteers for turtle measurement, GPS handling, and egg data collection methods. The idea is to establish turtle tracks along the coast. The initiative will also see participation from school children who will spread awareness about turtles,” he said.