Marine Turtle Conservation in Maharashtra (2002 to 2006)

Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) started Marine turtle conservation first time in Maharashtra. In the year 2002 SNM started actual protection work for Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) in Velas, a tiny village on northernmost boundary of district Ratnagiri. In the first year SNM undertook protection work in one village and successfully protected 50 nests. Within a short span of time SNM spread the protection work to entire coast of Maharashtra state, that's about 720 kms of coastline in all. In the forth year of the project we arranged protection work in 15 villages, but found only 36 nests against 50 in a village. These figures themselves can prove that the marine turtle is crossing the upper limits of its presently endangered status very rapidly...
SNM is trying its level best to overcome this problem with its limited resources and successfully released total of 7,610 hatchlings within four years.

Of the five species of marine turtle occurring on the Indian coast, except Loggerhead sea turtle all the other four are seen on the coast of Maharashtra. The Olive Ridley nests occur sporadically on entire coast followed by Green turtle (Chelonia mydas). Breeding of the Hawksbill and Leatherback is not reported on the coast. The major threat to the marine turtles on Maharashtra's coast is from poaching of eggs and adults, incidental catch in fishing nets and due to developmental activities along the coast.

In February 2001, SNM found evidence of nesting in large numbers and unfortunately also of poaching of eggs at Velas. Velas is a small village located on the banks of river Savitri and is at the northernmost end of Ratnagiri district. At that time we found 35 nests of sea turtle, but unfortunately all were predated by Jackals (Canis aerues). While enquiring about it in the village, we realized that, during breeding season locals were prevented to go to the beach because of smuggling activity, the reason why they could not poach the turtles eggs whereas Jackals predated all the nests on the beach. Egg poaching is traditional practice of locals on entire coast of the state. Marine turtle population also suffers from harvesting of turtles, high mortality due to trawlers, habitat destruction and many other problems on the coast.

To overcome these problems SNM decided to undertake actual protection work and on 02 October 2002 started marine turtle conservation work, for the first time in Maharashtra.

Read Four year village-wise report

In the last 4 years we undertook protection work at 22 villages but in 11 villages we have not found a single nest or any evidence of turtle crawl in the whole breeding season.

Table 1: Village-wise protected nests of Olive Ridley

    Nests Per Breeding Season
Sr.Num. Place 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06
1 Velas 50 30 14 21
2 Anjarla ND 4 ND ND
3 Saldure ND 0 ND ND
4 Murud Harnai ND 1 ND ND
5 Diveagar ND ND 4 3
6 Harihareshwar ND ND 4 4
7 Kelshi ND ND 1 1
8 Karde ND ND 0 ND
9 Kolthare ND ND 4 2
10 Dabhol ND ND 4 2
11 Ambolgad ND ND 0 ND
12 Madban ND ND 0 ND
13 Tondoli ND ND 0 ND
14 Chikhala ND ND ND 0
15 Vadrai ND ND ND 0
16 Maral ND ND ND 1
17 Sandkhol ND ND ND 1
18 Varawade ND ND ND 0
19 Tarkarli ND ND ND 0
20 Deobag ND ND ND 0
21 Bhogave ND ND ND 0
22 Murud Janjira ND ND ND 1
  Total 50 35 31 36

ND - Conservation work was Not Done.

If we look at the whole breeding season i.e. November to March we found most of the nests in the months of December and January (See Table 2). We released hatchlings with hatching success rates of 50.89% in first year, 48.11% in second and 48.91% in the third year.
If we look at the spread of nesting season, in first three years nests were found more towards December and January but in fourth year we saw last of the nests coming up as late as first week of April.

Table 2: Month-wise nests protected during the years 2002 to 2006

Year Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. Total nests Hatchlings Released
2002-03 Nil 25 19 06 Nil Nil 50 2734
2003-04 01 15 13 05 01 Nil 35 1687
2004-05 02 16 10 01 02 Nil 31 1565
2005-06 03 11 09 08 03 02 36 1624

Month-wise nesting

We are trying to involve as many NGOs and locals as possible in this work. For last three years we are getting good response in Velas, our first site. We must make special mention of Kolthare and Diveagar where involvement of locals has been overwhelming.

Kolthare - In this village under the leadership of Dr. Mahajan, villagers took responsibility of patrolling the area and protecting the nests. At Diveagar, Sahyadri Mitra, an NGO from Mahad has taken responsibility of the project independently and is very active in it.

Campaigns and training:

To train volunteers who are interested in turtle conservation work a workshop was arranged on 27 Feb 2005 in Chiplun with the help of B.N.H.S. Mumbai. This workshop was attended by 70 including Forest officers and volunteers from the entire coastline.

In order to encourage those who work in Turtle conservation programs, SNM decided to establish 'Kasav Mitra Puraskar' (Turtle Friend Award). First award for the year 2004-2005 in the form of Rs. 1000 in cash and a certificate of appreciation was awarded to Mr. Nandakumar Patil from Velas for his outstanding contribution in turtle conservation. The 48 year old Mr. Patil is the Sarpanch (head) of the grampanchayat (local administration) of Velas. In the year 05-06 NGO was added as a category. That year the award went to Mr. Charuhas Tipnis, Mahad in individual category and to Ratnadurga Mountaineers, Ratnagiri in NGO category.

We have published a booklet "Marine Turtle Protection and Conservation" in Marathi (local language of Coastal region) and distributed free of cost to volunteers and persons who are interested in Marine turtle conservation. This booklet contains brief information about Marine turtle, threat to them and also guidelines for their protection and conservation work.

We are trying to develop community participation and involvement of local NGOs in this project. Given our limited resources it is very difficult for us to cover 720 kms of coastline. If local NGOs take initiative in protection work we can certainly look forward to a safer and brighter future for marine turtles.

Threat

In last three years of conservation work on the coast we found eggs poaching is the major threat to the turtles followed by harvesting. We also found dead turtles on coast in increasing numbers. Some incidents are given below.

In the year 2002-03 at Velas we found one dead Green turtle. In the year 2003-04 we found two dead Olive Ridley turtles on Murud beach, and one young Green turtle at Saldure.

In the year 2003-04, At Kelshi, some 3km. from Velas, two turtles were killed by striped hyenas and eaten partly. At Anjarla 5 nests were predated by jackals and not a single egg was found among them. Four turtles returned to sea without laying eggs i.e. two at Velas, and two in Anjarla. One turtle found as a catch in fishing net near the beach and was released by locals. In the year 2004-05 at Dabhol, due to a storm lot of casuarina trees got damaged and now casuarinas tree trunks are lying all over the beach posing a big hurdle for the turtles on their way to nesting. Due to this obstacle 5 turtles returned to the sea without laying eggs. At Velas 5 nests were partly predated by jackals. We found 9 dead turtles on three beaches, 5 at Kolthare, 2 at Ambolgad and 2 at Anjarla. At Velas, one nest was completely eaten while eight nests were partly robbed by jackals. In the year 2005-06 we found 8 strayed turtles on the beach.

Public is now responding to our awareness campaign. For instance, at Nivati, taluka Vengurla, district Sindhudurg one sub-adult Green turtle was caught in the fishing net. When it was brought back to the shore local dealers started bargaining to purchase it, but another local person on the beach who was in contact with SNM, informed us immediately about it. We appealed repeatedly to fishermen and finally they responded to our appeals and released the turtle back into the sea. At Ratnagiri, one Olive Ridley turtle was caught in fishing net and was injured. Ratnadurga Mountaineers, an NGO working in nature conservation activity, released it after nursing for couple of weeks.

Acknowledgements

This project was funded by Vasant J. Sheth Memorial Foundation, Mumbai; Salim Ali Nature Conservation Fund, B.N.H.S. Mumbai; Barve Trust, Pune; R. Shrinivas, HOPE Thane; Shri Shankarrao Kirloskar Smarak Samiti Prathasthan, Pune; Alok Pandit, Pune; WWF-India, Kolhapur division; Trinity Construction, Mumbai and many other organizations and individuals. We are grateful to Dr. Kartik Shanker and Mr. Varad Giri. Also Thanks to the Forest Department of Maharashtra for their kind help in the project.

What lies in future?

In next breeding season that is 2006-2007, SNM will try to spread this conservation work to 40 villages along the Maharashtra coast with the help of Forest Department, NGOs, Government organizations and individuals. SNM will also try to create a permanent fund for this conservation work by appealing to industrialists, various trusts and nature lovers. We also plan to form a Conservation Center at Velas which is the only known place on the west coast where turtles visit in good number for nesting.

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