Karnataka is the habitat of the Olive Ridley and Green Sea Turtles. Between September and December each year they come to the beaches around Kundapur to lay eggs. After 20 years of living in the ocean and after swimming thousands of miles, the female sea turtles return to the beach to nest where they hatch. Since a couple of years things have changed because of rising pollution of ocean and beaches. Every year less and less turtles come to the beaches to lay eggs. Their population decreases at an alarming rate that sea turtles are now threatened nearly to extinction. As a result, also the number of nesting habitats decline.
In 2005, FSL India started the Sea Turtle Conservation Project in collaboration with Forest and Wildlife Department of Karnataka state. Located in the town of Kundapur on the west coast of Karnataka beach, the aim of this project is to undertake survey of sea turtles in this area, protecting their eggs, and reducing threats to survival. This case study gives a short overview of the sea turtle conservation in general as well as the FSL India’s effort of sea turtle project in particular. It is based on the experience of FSL India team on the beaches and of Indian life in general as well as the data collected from 2005 to 2011.
2. About Sea Turtle:
Turtles are reptiles, a class of animals that includes crocodiles, snakes and lizards. Like all reptiles sea turtles lay eggs, breathe air and their body temperature depends on the temperature around them. The ancestors of sea turtles were animals that left the land to live in the sea. Thus sea turtles are adapted to living in water by having a shell form that enables them to swim very fast as well as having flippers to paddle instead of legs to walk on but unlike land tortoise they cannot retract their limbs and head into their shell for protection. They have lungs and have to come to the surface to breathe air. They are able to keep their breath for up to five hours. When they are stressed or caught in a fisher net, they need to breathe after a few minutes, otherwise they drown. They use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate and a very good sense of smell. Their vision is adapted to the blue-green colours that dominate under water. On the land sea turtles are rather short sighted.
There are two species of sea turtles visiting the Kundapur coast which is about 60 kilo metres long. They are Olive Ridley and Green turtle. Leather Back variety used to visit this area but since last 20 years there is no evidence of them anymore. The female turtles of Olive Ridley and Green Turtle visit the coast during October and December to lay eggs.
3. Five Major Components of FSL India’s Intervention:
Awareness Program: Raising awareness amongst different sections of the community is vital to this program. Different sections of the community are fisherman, children and general public. Visiting schools is an essential part of schools awareness as it means children are educated about Sea Turtle Conservation and begin to care about the issues. Primary school awareness are carried out puppet show with quiz and by painting murals depicting messages to do with sea turtles on the school walls. We believe that the combination of visiting school, painting a mural, doing the puppet show and the quiz are most effective techniques for carrying out long lasting awareness in primary schools.
Setting up hatcheries and TIC’s (Turtle Information Centres): International volunteers along with the local youth and staff of FSL India set up nesting habits and hatcheries on the beach near the contact persons home. Hatcheries are temporary structures which can be moved easily. At the same time care is taken so as not to change the natural habitat of the nest. For example, the nest should be within the vicinity of the monsoon high tide of the beach. This activity helps the local youth involve in the program and generate interest for sea turtle conservation. The local youth get a chance to meet youth from different parts of the world and work together with a common goal of saving this important species.
Training Contact persons: Local fishermen families living on the beach are taken into confidence and trough awareness and counselling they become our contact persons. The hatcheries are set up along the entire stretch of beach at every 5 kilo metres interval. The contact persons are given training on how to relocate the Sea Turtle eggs and how to take care of the hatcheries. Whenever anyone comes across any nest advised to relocate the eggs at the earliest, since this is very crucial for the success rate of hatchlings. Our experience shows that the eggs have to be relocated within 8 hours for good success rate of hatchling. This way FSL India team with the support of the local community and international volunteers ensure that the eggs are relocated near the nesting ground.
Keeping Records: A good deal of documents and records are maintained at FSL India office on details of number of eggs collected and hatched. Since sea turtles visit the same beach they hatched on, the same turtle visits the same beach every year. So, over the years one can get a good picture of how many turtles visit this part of the coast line. Apart from this with the network that is created on the beach, FSL India team collects data on wounded turtles, dead turtles etc. Any other data needed for any studies or statistics, FSL India is able make available.
Sea Turtle sensitization center: A center for education activities, resource center, Data center, information center, along with a hatchery is soon to be built. The center will also have a Sea Turtle rescue facility for wounded or sick sea turtles that are brought in and can be kept in a tank or be cared for. Every year, in the monsoon at least three to four sea turtles are brought in by local youth or contact persons. These turtles cannot go back to deep waters because of the swell in the monsoon. This center will be built by the Forest Department and run with the help of FSL India.
4. Relocated turtle nests in season 2011-2012:
- On 3rd October 2011 a total of 106 eggs were relocated at Bijadi which are yet be hatched.
- On 22nd October 2011 a total of 156 eggs were relocated at Maravanthe which are yet be hatched.
- On 7th November 2011 a total of 107 eggs were relocated at Maravanthe out of which 105 (98.13%) are hatched.
- On 5th December 2011 a total of 98 eggs were relocated at Bijadi out of which 70 (71.42%) are hatched.
- On 8th January 2012 a total of 110 eggs were relocated at Maravanthe which are yet be hatched.
- On 10th January 2012 a total of 134 eggs were relocated at Bijadi which are yet be hatched.
- On 10th January 2012 a total of 124 eggs were relocated at Bijadi which are yet be hatched.