NAGERCOIL: A downward trend spotted in the arrival of Olive ridley sea turtles to the coasts in Kanniyakumari district after the Ockhi cyclone has left the wildlife conservationists of the areas in distraught. Adding to the woes of the dwindling numbers is the rise in delay in the time of arrival of the sea turtles to the coast.
Every year, between October and March, scores of sea turtles arrive at the Kanniyakumari District coast, which is one of the key nesting hotspots. December 19, 2019, marked the arrival of the first Olive ridley sea turtle for this season, which is followed by 18 more turtles, laying a total of 1,859 eggs, till the present day. During this nesting season, each turtle have laid eggs, from a minimum of 55 to a maximum of 134.
Of the 131 eggs laid by the first turtle that came ashore this season, 113 were preserved and all of the hatchlings were released back into its natural habitat in the beginning of February. Several locations, including Pannaiyur, Thekkurichi, Thenpar Coast, Azhikal, Ayiramkal Estuary and Chothavilai, served as the hot spots for the turtles that arrived this season. The Forest Department has employed five temporary watchers to preserve the eggs and take them to the hatchery at Thenparcoast near Pannaiyur.
Sources said that ever since the severe Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the number of turtles coming ashore has been in a constant decline. During the last hatching season in 2018-2019, a total of 33 olive ridley turtles arrived and laid a total of 3,384 eggs. Before the cyclone, more than 100 turtles would arrive every season, said sources, claiming that the forest department concentrates only on specific areas of the 68-km-long coast.
S S Davidson, a Nagercoil-based environmental educator and conservationist, said that the hotspots have reduced in number, since the 1990s. "A number of reasons, including climate change, marine pollution, poaching, could have caused the decline in the numbers, however, more studies along the coast should be carried out to identify the exact cause," he said.
Boothapandy Forest Ranger G K Deelipan said that the officers would wait for the arrival of turtles till April and sought the public to inform them while noticing the eggs along the coast. Before the cyclone, the turtles would reach the shores around October, which delayed to December this season.