By Shyam Balasubramanian
When Pachaiyappan called volunteers of the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) on Thursday evening, he brought great news. He told the volunteers that an Olive Ridley sea turtle had laid eggs at the Thiruvanmiyur fishing hamlet, making the first reported nest of this year’s Olive Ridley nesting season.
This has marked an early start to the season. Usually, the turtle start coming ashore to lay their eggs only towards the end of December. “We usually start regular turtle walks only by the fourth week of December. This is an early nest indeed. There is no way for us to know if we are going to see an early beginning to the season in general,” said Akila Balu, coordinator of SSTCN.
The Olive Ridley had come ashore and laid her eggs at around noon, in broad daylight. This is unusual for the simple reason that the turtles nest at night on the beaches in and around Chennai. “It is not unheard of,” says a fisherman. “Turtle can come to nest even during the day. But they do that only along isolated stretches, not in these urban parts. It has been years since we have seen a turtle nesting in the day here,” he adds.
SSTCN volunteer Shravan took possession of the eggs from the local fishermen who had dug up the nest, and had it relocated at a safe spot. “We have been finding turtle carcasses washed ashore for some days now. That means a lot of turtle have moved into the area off the Chennai coast. They are probably feeding and mating right now,” said Shravan.
Volunteer groups working for Olive Ridley conservation in and around Chennai are keeping their fingers crossed. Last year, the nesting season turned out to be a damp squib. While some have attributed it to the onset of Cyclone Thane, others have said it could be because of a demographic shift in the age of the turtles.
“In a situation where we are not a 100 percent sure why the nesting was so bad last year, there is also the possibility that a large number of turtles have been killed by trawl fishing boats without Turtle Excluder Devices,” said Akila. “Till more turtle actually come ashore to nest, our hearts will be in our mouths over the safety of the Ridleys,” she added.