CHENNAI, India — The nesting season for Olive Ridley turtles along the city coast has started on a tragic note. At least 30 dead turtles have been washed ashore between Neelankarai and Napier Bridge in the past fortnight, with as many as 11 being found on the night of December 28 by Student Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) volunteers on the Marina. "All of them were on the 500-metre stretch between the high-mast lights at Pattinapakkam and the place where the Adyar meets the sea," said R Nishanth, a volunteer.
Conservationists, however, say it could be a sign that more are on their way to the city. "In 2012, we found 80 dead turtles in the entire season and 120 nests, one of the lowest," said SSTCN coordinator V Arun. About 10,000 hatchlings were released.
In 2011, 120 dead turtles washed ashore. "The same year, we had 183 nests, releasing around 14,000 hatchlings," said Arun.
It is estimated that only one in a thousand eggs reaches adulthood. "We can only make sure these hatch. Once they are in the sea, there is nothing much we can do," said Akila Balu of SSTCN.
The death of so many turtles along the Chennai coast is considered significant as the Olive Ridleys swim along the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coasts to Odisha, one of the three mass-nesting sites in the globe, where they nest on the beaches of Gahirmatha, Rushikulya and at the mouth of the Devi river. According to a study by B C Choudhury and Bivash Pandav for their book 'Marine turtles of the Indian continent,' the Olive Ridleys come from the Gulf of Mannar and even from Sri Lanka.
Along the way, many turtles are accidentally scooped up by trawl nets and dragged along the sea floor. "By the time the fishermen haul up the net four hours later, the turtle is either dead or comatose. It is then discarded overboard and washes ashore," said Shekar Dattatri, wildlife film maker and conservationist. Gill nets are stretched across the sea, just under the surface, and can be up to 3km long. Turtles get entangled in these and are very difficult to disentangle. Therefore fishermen cut off their flippers. Without flippers, a turtle will drown, he added.