Turtle festival in the golden sands of Maharashtra

As the day breaks, scores of turtle hatchlings with twinkling eyes pop out of the golden sand beach, take a look around and breathe the fresh air of the Arabian Sea nearby.

It is that time of the year again at the quiet, but beautiful Velas beach in the Konkan region’s Ratnagiri district. Welcome to the annual Turtle Festival, which kicks off on February 19. It will continue till the emergence of the tiny turtle hatchlings, mostly of the Olive Ridley species, which can grow to around 4 feet in length.

“It is the culmination of a lengthy process, which starts around November, when under the protective cover of darkness, weary female turtles lay their clutches of around 120 eggs on the sandy beach here,” Bhau Katdare, head of the NGO, Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra (SNM), which organises the annual festival said.

This year, over 2,000 nature lovers, including many foreign tourists, are expected to converge for the annual Turtle Festival. For the first time, the forest department, the Velas Gram Panchayat and the Kasav Mitra Mandal will participate in the fest, said Katdare.

“This year, erratic climatic conditions, including the late onset of winter, have made it difficult to predict the exact dates on which the turtle hatchlings will emerge from their eggs,” Katdare said.

Incidentally, this is the second festival in less than eight weeks in the coastal Konkan region. In December, the Kirat Trust held its first turtle festival at the Vengurla beach in Sindhudurg district bordering Goa, around 425 kms from Mumbai. Considering the importance of sea turtles in the marine ecosystem, SNM undertook a mission to protect marine turtles and their eggs.

“We have successfully implemented the project in 36 villages across the coast of Maharashtra, protecting 681 nests and releasing nearly 35,000 turtle hatchlings into the Arabian Sea,” Katdare said.

This year, the forest department has provided financial and logistical support to the NGO, further strengthening the marine turtle conservation movement in the state.

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