Silent awareness drive on here

An NGO has been organising an annual festival to create awareness about the need to save turtles.

 Chiplun-based NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), which is engaged in nature conservation in Konkan, has organised a 19-day turtle festival from March 10. The festival, in its fifth year, has been growing in its popularity, if crowds are any indication at Velas in Ratnagiri district.  The aim of the festival is protection of the marine turtles and release of hatchlings into the sea.
 According to the SNM convenor Vishwas alias Bhau Katdare, once hatchlings start emerging from the nest, they will continue to emerge for the next two consecutive days when one can observe them. The daily updates of emergence of these hatchlings are posted on the SNM's website or blog, so that visitors can decide the best date to come to Velas.

In 2002, a few nature activists associated with the SNM were at Velas on a study tour. The Velas beach was notorious for smuggling and illegal activities. The activists decided to take a chance and walked about 2.5 km from the village to reach the beach, only to be greeted by beautiful nesting sight.  It was the beginning of the project and Velas became the main centre on the western coast.
While Orissa coast is famous for marine turtles, the Konkan coast is now emerging as an equally important place for conservation of these large, air-breathing reptiles that live in tropical and sub-tropical seas throughout the world. The project has been implemented in 30 villages of coastal Maharashtra.

"Marine turtles typically mate at sea a few weeks prior to the nesting and only the females come ashore to nest. The males are never found on the coast, though they have been sighted in the coastal waters," Katdare said.

The nesting activity of turtles normally takes place in the cover of darkness. "Female turtles dig nest, which is flask shaped beyond the high water mark with the help of their flippers. Each female would lay approximately 150 eggs, which are table tennis ball size and soft shelled. Incubation period for these eggs is usually between 50-70 days depending on the species," said another SNM activist.

"The eggs are closely packed and in contact with one another. Metabolic heating within the nest helps to speed up the hatching process in the final stages of incubation. The gender is temperature dependent, meaning higher the temperature more number of females, lower the temperature more number of males," he said.
The hatchlings emerge at night and head towards the sea. While they walk towards the sea imprinting takes place that enables them to return to their natal beach for nesting when they mature.

"In past seven years, we were able to protect 530 nests and released more than 25,000 hatchlings into the sea," Katdare said proudly.

Last year, the SNM set up a Kasav Mitra Mandal at Velas to further the conservaton activity. Although there are other beaches for turtle conservation, most of the Olive Ridley turtles arrive at Velas for nesting.

According to WWF India, five species of marine turtles found in this region are classified as endangered and therefore require urgent action for their conservation.
The main threat to marine turtles is the degraded and dwindling nesting and foraging sites.

Poaching and trade in turtle meat, eggs, shell, blood for medicinal purposes and for commercial consumption in few coastal pockets, feral dogs and birds like crows, eagles are other threats to marine turtles.
It is here that the conservation activities undertaken by the SNM come into play and assume importance in protecting the ecological balances.

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