Andhekar Sathish Lal's decade-long documentation of Olive Ridley Turtles earns global recognition

Hyderabad-based photographer Andhekar Sathish Lal was awarded the Associate — The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. CE speaks to him about the award, the thrill of capturing endangered species and more
Olive Ridley Turtles
Olive Ridley Turtles

HYDERABAD : Capturing nature and preserving it for a lifetime is a unique experience. When this work gains recognition, the moments become even more memorable. One such photographer who has achieved global appreciation is Hyderabad-based Andhekar Sathish Lal, who was honoured by The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in the Natural History genre. CE spoke to him about this prestigious award and the remarkable photos he has captured.

Sathish shares, “The award, known as ARPS (Associate — The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain), has a history spanning over 170 years and is under the patronage of the Royal Family. It is the second-highest award presented to photographers. This competition is incredibly tough, requiring participants to go through several interviews, present layouts, and submit 15 images for evaluation by a panel of six judges. They assess the photos based on technical quality, storytelling, and content. We also have to explain our choice of subjects. My subject was Olive Ridley Turtles, which are on the endangered list. I have been documenting these turtles for the past 10 years along the coast of Odisha, Ganjam. There is a season called ‘Arribada,’ when these turtles come in large numbers to mate and lay eggs. Climate changes and beach erosion sometimes affect their arrival.”

Regarding his enrollment in ARPS, he says, “Nominees come from different countries, with thousands of applicants each year. The competition has 4-5 genres, and I applied in the Natural History category.”

On receiving the honour of standing second globally, he adds, “This is an international recognition, the second highest for photographers worldwide.”

Focusing on turtles and getting awarded for his work, Sathish recalls, “Since childhood, I have been fascinated by turtles. Our zoological park had a turtle about 150 years old. As a kid, I visited the zoo with my parents just to see it. Hearing about ‘Arribada’ as a photographer, where lakhs of turtles move around on the beach, captivated me. I also engage in environmental activities. Learning about the turtles’ migration to one place inspired me to make it my subject. These turtles are among the largest animals being smuggled. Documenting them became a mission, not for awards, but for awareness.”

On his other works, he shares, “For over 13 years, I have been documenting Indian tribes, capturing around 120 tribes across 22 states. My work earned a call from Rashtrapati Bhavan to present my photographs at the tribal gallery. President Droupadi Murmu inaugurated the gallery and appreciated my photos. I am the only Indian photographer to present work at Rashtrapati Bhavan.”

Aiming to raise awareness about the turtles, he explains, “These turtles travel from Sri Lankan waters to mate in Odisha, India. This natural spectacle in our country is magnificent. They arrive in December, mate in January, and hatch between February and March. After 45-50 days, the eggs hatch, and the baby turtles make their way to the ocean. Each turtle lays around 130-150 eggs.”

Andhekar Sathish Lal
Andhekar Sathish Lal

Discussing the challenges of capturing these moments, he says, “Securing permission from the forest department was difficult initially, but my work eventually convinced them. I had to coordinate with locals as the turtles come out at night, laying eggs before sunrise. Capturing these moments in low light was challenging. In 2017, when my wife gave birth to our daughter, I received a call about the turtles arriving. Despite the timing, I left for Odisha and captured images that won the competition. Six of those photos were selected.”

Reflecting on his journey, he states, “Capturing thousands of turtles in one place was a dream come true. With 20 years of experience as a photographer, this is something I will always cherish. Documenting the mating of turtles was a unique endeavour, and I’m glad I chose this subject.”

Regarding future projects, he concludes, “I will be focusing on documenting sea erosion next and plan to exhibit these works.”

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