CHENNAI: As turtle enthusiasts walk along the beach to collect and conserve the eggs of the Olive Ridley Turtles, carcasses are becoming a common sight along with the eggs.
The collection of eggs and monitoring turtle numbers is carried out by environmental NGOs and the Forest Department. Forest Ranger David Raj said that 83 turtles had been found between Marakannam and Marina Beach in the past two days.
Members of the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) in the stretch of beach between Neelankarai and Napier’s Bridge have found 118 turtles since January. “Last night when I walked the stretch, I marked 21 on the shore and also counted 14 dead ones floating back. This is extremely high for one night,” says Nishant R, a
volunteer with SSTCN.
Tree Foundation is another group that works for the conservation of sea turtles and they found 251 turtles this season in the stretch between Neelankarai and Marakkanam.
The deaths are attributed by the conservationists to overfishing by large trawlers. “The turtles need to come to the surface every 30 minutes to breathe. If they get caught in the trawlers, they drown,” said V Arun, coordinator of SSTCN. Supraja Dharani, founder of Tree Foundation, believes the cause of death is asphyxiation due to drowning after being caught in the fishing gear — a fact deduced from the bulging eyes, swollen neck and visible internal haemorrhaging of the dead turtles. Eleven of the turtles found dead in the past two days have been sent to the Veterinary College for autopsy, said Raj, and he attributed the deaths to injury from the propellers of boats.
“But the post mortem results will take time. We have been trying to raise awareness among the fishermen to avoid fishing during the turtle season in a three-kilometre radius from the shore,” he said.
The rate of survival of turtle eggs is estimated by conservationists at just 1 in 1000. “With this rate of survival, the number of turtles we are losing every year is of concern,” said Arun.
“Sixty per cent of people in the world depend on the sea in one way or the other, as consumers, for livelihood and for export. If the fishing community is reduced, we will have all kinds of problems, and these need to be solved right now,” said Raj.