Velas: Olive Ridley haven on Maharashtra coast| Last Updated: March 20, 2013 at 7:14 PM
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
A frisson of exhilaration shot through me as the six-odd Olive Ridley hatchlings took their baby steps to the sea. I had felt the same on seeing my toddler take his first steps. Fumbling its way, searching for the sea and obviously scared by the exultations of the crowd that had assembled to bid him goodbye, the little Olive Ridley hatchlings headed for the sea.
It still remains a mystery as to how the hatchlings, with no knowledge of the sea or even their mother, like pre-programmed robots, rush to the sea immediately after taking birth. Man is believed to be the most evolved but depends on GPS to find his way; in stark contrast, the mute animals relied on instinct and some ability still unknown to man.
I had travelled over seven hours to witness the Olive Ridleys taking their first steps to the sea. Velas in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra was one of the favourite destinations of the turtles. The threat of extinction and the fact that they travelled several hundred nautical miles to nest; had fanned my desire to be witness to the phenomenon.
Found from India to Australia and as far as Brazil and Venezuela in South America, the numbers of the turtles had declined by more than 30 per cent globally. The turtles are classified as vulnerable according to International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Statistics paint a grim picture about the future of the turtles. Declining by more than 30 per cent globally and chances of only one in thousand surviving, my anxiety levels climbed rapidly and my heart said prayers for divine intercession.
Velas, a nondescript village in Ratnagiri district over 200 km south of Mumbai, has become the epicentre of efforts to save the turtles from doom. Ten years ago, before the conservation effort started, most of the turtle eggs were either consumed by humans, dogs and other wild animals.
But with awareness and large-scale participation of locals, 19000 hatchlings have been released in the decade long effort. “Due to our collective efforts we have ensured that none of the eggs are damaged by humans or animals”, beams Virendra Patil, the deputy sarpanch of the village and one of the leaders of the conservation efforts.
From the start of the nesting season beginning November, locals have been maintaining a vigil for the female turtles that come home to nest. When I visited, the nesting season was at its fag end but some female turtles were still experiencing birth pangs.
Females lay up to three clutches per season, one clutch containing between 90-150 eggs. The eggs, size of ping pong balls, are collected and incubated in a hatchery constructed on the beach by the locals. Each clutch is marked by its date and left to incubate naturally.
Though uncertainty prevailed over the fate of the hatchlings, the villagers have ensured at least the eggs get a decent chance to hatch. No parties are allowed after dark when the turtles come to nest and round the clock vigil is maintained.
For all their conservation activities, the villagers have also gained, albeit in a small way, courtesy the turtles. It had not only placed the village prominently on the tourist map of Maharashtra but also provided an alternative source of income for the villagers.
Weekends witnesses tourists and nature lovers from Mumbai and Pune trooping into the village to watch the turtles. According to Ameya Srivardhankar, who has opened the doors of his house for tourists to stay, about 400 tourists visit the village. Many often stay overnight and in the process, get to learn more about the lives of locals like Ameya. The financial aspect has given the necessary impetus for the villagers to take up the conservation efforts.
A large crowd had gathered to watch the Olive Ridley turtles take their first steps to the sea. A volunteer carried them to the shores in a basket from the hatchery. Waving their flippers as if saying goodbyes, they rambled their way to the sea.
Will they survive? Will they ever come back? I pray fervently for strength to the little fellows to endure the difficult life that lay before them.
Photo credits: Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra
First Published: March 20, 2013 at 7:14 PM