Saturday, March 15, 2014

Turtle Walk

(Font size is driving me crazy, which doesn't take much after being up all night.  So please be understanding.)

I went on the turtle walk last night.  This event is organized by the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network:  These folks walk the beach every night during nesting season, looking for nests, then digging up the eggs (usually more than 100 per nest) and taking them to a hatchery just up the beach.  When the eggs hatch they release the hatchlings back to the ocean.  If they don't, the eggs can get dug up by dogs or other predators, or the hatchlings will walk inland toward the bright lights rather than toward the ocean.  Instinct tells them to head to the light, which works well unless there is light pollution.  There are groups all over India, and the world I believe, who do this.  Here the nesting season runs from early January through end of March.  During that time, they invite volunteers to join them on Friday and Saturday nights.  

I signed up for last night, when the moon was almost full.  The event begins at 11 PM, and I arrived at the beach, escorted by Ravi, at about 10:45.  There was a small group of college students there, and I joined them.  Nice young folks, acting like young folks act.  They were from all over India, so they spoke English, the one language they all had in common.  About 11:10 others started to arrive. The event organizers finally arrived about 11:30, and we got started soon thereafter.  About 50 of us altogether.  I was a good 15 years older than the next oldest person there, and the only non-Indian.  Most of the participants were probably between 16 and 21.

The event starts with information sharing and discussion.  About turtles, about the environment, about issues, about activism.  There are seven species of sea turtles.  The one species that nests here on this beach is the Olive Ridley.  You can read more about them here. Like all sea turtles, their survival is threatened by human activity.  Two major issues are light pollution and fishing nets.  This group has been trying to deal with those problems at a higher level, but in the meantime they walk the beaches to ensure that at least some hatchlings survive.  They use the opportunity to educate folks, especially students, about the issues.

Discussion started slowly, but finally got going.  A resident activist said that poverty isn't the problem, properity is;  to solve world hunger, we first need to address over-consumption.  One of the young folks said the whole problem is that people don't know when they have enough, an idea I've been musing about, especially now that I've realized I need a third suitcase to get all my stuff home!  The walk was a time of reflection for me.  Staying up all night, walking along the Bay of Bengal with a bunch of kids when the moon is almost full can have that effect.  Especially after several months of visiting ashrams and temples and studying the Yoga Sutras.

This was not a walk in Paradise, like walking the beach at Cinnamon Bay.  This is more like Paradise Lost because of the litter and pollution.  We walked past several fishing villages, each being guarded by a pack of barking, growling dogs.  And the villages were very active.  At 1 to 4 in the morning, we saw small boats coming in with their catch, others just going out.  How they manage those tiny boats in the ocean with such high surf is beyond me.  By the way, these small fisherman are not a problem.  They are also concerned about the turtles.  It is the corporate trawlers who flout the law, refusing to use nets with escape hatches for the turtles and fishing close to shore.  Both illegal, but common practice here.

We found two nests where the eggs had already hatched, saved three hatchlings, and found a dead turtle.  Our walk finished at about 4:20, at which point I called Ravi for a ride home.  Bless his heart!  I finally got to bed a little around 5:30 and slept till about 9.  Please attribute all typos and incoherence to my short night!

The pictures, such as they are, tell more about the walk.

Starting the walk, after the discussion.

Digging for the eggs.  In this case, all of the eggs had already hatched.

They can tell from these tracks that the hatchlings from this nest had headed inland toward the lights.

We fan out, combing the area for surviving hatchlings.

Success!  Three hatchlings were found.

The hatchlings were put down close to the ocean and guided out to sea by a flashlight.

One of them had a very hard time moving at all, but eventually made it with a little help from friends.  Will they survive?

We send our blessings out to sea with them.  The older, dressed up folks at the back here just stopped by at this point, mostly for photos with some of the walkers.  My guess is that they were grandparents.

A dead turtle that had washed up on the beach since the previous night.  They have found more than 200 such turtles just along this 7 km. stretch of beach this season.  No marks on them, so it is assumed they drowned, trapped in fishing nets.

When tracks indicate that a turtle has come on shore, these volunteers try to find the nest by probing the sand with a small metal rod.  The sand has a different feel where a nest has been dug.  It isn't always easy to find, because the tracks have been wiped out by footprints.  Last night they finally had to give up, so we didn't rescue any turtle eggs.  They'll be out again tonight, looking.


  1. FASCINATING ADVENTURE!!! Reminds me of your 2 older brothers catching turtles on the farm. Hope Oc got to see this one too!

  2. You reminded me of this: lots of life! (don't know whether that link will work - you can search for baby leatherback turtles hatching)