Saagarika, a beautiful Olive Ridley turtle, loved her ocean home. She would move her flippers to gently swim across the deep blue waters and look for her favourite meal — shrimps and crabs. But one day the turtle’s life took a turn for the worse. Saagarika collided with a passing ship and as the vessel sailed away unharmed, the sea turtle was left with a battered carapace and a flipper that dangled lifelessly.
What happened to Saagarika is not a unique incident, but something that occurs almost every day in our oceans. Cargo ships, oil vessels and fishing boats that use global waterways often forget the life forms thriving under the water surface. As the mighty vessels sail away, they inadvertently leave behind an array of injured or dead sea animals that came in harm’s way.
A badly injured Saagarika was found on the coasts of Tamil Nadu and rescued by volunteers of the Sea Turtle Protection Force of Tree Foundation. It took them more than a year to heal her carapace, treat the wounds and make the turtle strong enough to survive in the vast ocean with three flippers instead of four.
Timely help saved Saagarika, but there are hundreds of others that are not as lucky. Indian coasts are home to a multitude of fish and sea mammals like dolphins, dugong, whales and sharks. But in the presence of 24 x 7 traffic of passing vessels, none of these species are safe. Only a few months ago in Kerala, two rare Bryde’s whale bodies washed ashore. A dead dolphin was accidentally discovered by a person taking a walk on one of Maharashtra’s beaches. In all these cases it was evident that the death of these sea creatures was not natural but due to man-made circumstances.
Marine animals are already facing many challenges every moment because of man’s growing appetite for more space and more food. Over fishing, accidentally being caught in fishing nets, trawling, and habitat destruction are hounding the lives of these species. But while conservation strategies and aware fishermen do lessen the harmful impact of these practices, there is no safety measure taken yet to lessen the loss of marine life due to ship strikes.
The Bay of Fundy lies between Canada and North America. Ten years ago it was found that the route the vessels of an oil company were taking through this bay was causing collisions with endangered Right whales. The oil company promptly changed the course by a few degrees and eventually that has helped not only avoid the accidents but increase the population of the whales in the area.
This proves that ship strikes can be avoided. Most turtles and whales have a specific location where they prefer to feed and breed. If the travelling vessels verify before their voyage that the route does not trespass the sea animals’ feeding ground, it may help save many precious lives. When even one death may significantly push a species towards extinction, a little diversion from a predestined path can make a big difference.