CUDDALORE: With the breeding season of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle in full swing, fishermen in the coastal villages here have gone into a conservation mode, spotting and taking the turtles’ eggs to a hatchery set up in Rasapettai village.
A stalwart among these well-meaning fishing folk is Mezhalaichelvan, fondly called Chella. With the support of forest department, 32-year-old Chella and his friends have set out to do all they can to protect the fast-disappearing sea turtle.
The breeding season of the Olive Ridleys runs between January and March and forest authorities have set up hatcheries to protect the turtle eggs. Once they hatch, the young turtles are released into the sea.
The sad part is that at least 300-350 adult turtles, which come to lay their eggs on the shore, die along the Cuddalore coast during the breeding season. Most of these mother turtles die before they could make it to the shores, as they get stuck in fishing nets.
Those that reach the shore, dig a pit in the sand and lay their eggs but most of these eggs become food to predators.
The rescue mission
Tagging along with Chella and his friends for a turtle walk along the Devanapattinam coast at 3 am, show this reporter how adept they are in spotting tracks left behind by the turtles.
Armed with a torch light, fishermen Prabhu, Govind and Prakash–the three best trackers–spotted and dug out over 130 eggs in a go and put them in the large bag they had brought.
On an average, the team collects at least 300 eggs a day and carries them back to the special incubator set up by the forest department in Rasapettai.
The eggs are later buried in hatcheries protected by a fence made of bamboo. By the end of March, at least 50,000 eggs would hatch and the young turtles would be taken to the sea.
T Arul, a conservationist who is also part of the turtle walks, said the fishermen should be sensitised on the conservation of the species as they are the best at spotting tracks left behind by the Olive Ridleys.
● Olive Ridley turtles rarely weigh over 50 kg
● Mating is said to occur in the vicinity of nesting beaches
● Are mostly found in the Bay of Bengal
● Incubation period of eggs is usually between 45 and 51 days under natural conditions but may extend to 70 days in poor weather conditions