Conservation challenges of Olive Ridley turtles from nest to sea

Understanding the turtles is crucial not just for protecting the species from threats but also for learning about our ecosystem.
Turtle walk.
Turtle walk.

VIZAG: Picture this: each year, thousands of Olive Ridley Turtle hatchlings are released into the sea, but only one in a thousand survives to adulthood. Their journey begins with facing predators on both land and water even before they hatch.

Olive Ridleys are fascinating creatures, but we have only scratched the surface of understanding them. Understanding the turtles is crucial not just for protecting the species from threats but also for learning about our ecosystem.

The National Marine Turtle Action Plan 2012-2026, launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), focuses on creating a reliable database on marine turtle populations and their habitats across the entire Indian coastline.

The goal is to shape effective conservation strategies and tackle potential threats. It aims to boost knowledge about marine turtles and their habitats, promoting awareness and education for their conservation. Dr R Suresh Kumar, a scientist at the Department of Endangered Species Management, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), is educating local forest departments and other project participants about the importance of questioning existing practices and striving for a better understanding of turtles.

He highlights key aspects of ground-level conservation efforts, including understanding nesting patterns, protecting natural nesting areas, recording data, regulating tourism and managing hatchling release festivals. Understanding nesting patterns “Female turtles don’t randomly choose when to nest; it’s all about timing with the moon and tides. They prefer full tides when the water recedes, avoiding low tides when the water is distant. High tide, followed by retreat, is their signal,” informs Kumar. Notably, they may crawl into the shore over 40 metres.

Observations show a nesting pattern mainly from November to March, with a sequence of a few, then many, and again a few turtles. This implies their awareness of the optimal nesting period. Conservationists, using these insights, can predict nesting times by analysing tides and beach observations. Protecting natural nesting areas It is imperative, he says, that we protect the natural nesting sites to ensure the survival of the turtle offspring. He suggests maintaining 10-20% of nests in their original locations to maximise survival chances.

“While artificial incubation can be helpful, it may disrupt gender ratios and genetic diversity. Solitary nesting turtles meticulously select nesting spots after considering various factors, such as temperature, which significantly influences gender determination (below 27°C produces males, while above 32°C produces females). Gathering natural and artificial hatching data is essential to enhance conservation efforts and better understand potential consequences,” he adds.

River mouth “In my research on turtles in Odisha, like Gahirmatha and Rushikulya, I found they migrate to the southern Bay of Bengal, even down to Sri Lanka. Before nesting, they stick close to where they will lay their eggs,” says Kumar. Turtles prefer areas with water around 20-25 metres deep, particularly within 5 km along the east coast of India. On the west coast, this distance extends up to 100 km.

“In Odisha, we noticed they only reside during the breeding period in certain spots, within 2-3 km of the river mouth,” he says, adding such sites need to be identified and conserved. Regulating tourism While stopping tourism development completely isn’t feasible, it’s important to regulate it to protect turtle nesting sites.

This means focusing tourism development on specific areas while safeguarding the actual nesting sites. Hosting hatchling release festivals Hosting hatchling release festivals can be beneficial as they educate the public about conservation efforts. However, it is important to prioritise the safety of the turtles over public viewing. Festivals should focus on celebrating turtles, not entertaining the public.

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