Monday, July 12, 2010

Turtle Tales : Starting a Conversation on Conservation


In the month of May, we were celebrating World Turtle Day by offering a free download of our popular book 'Turtle Story'. We learnt about the journey of the sea turtle, the life cycle of the sea turtle, a conservation network in India, conservation-related facts and the author of the book (Kartik Shanker) also wrote a post about turtles being global ambassadors of conservation.
Recently, on a trip to Bali, while we were sitting on Jimbaran beach, I had a déjà vu moment of all the posts I had posted on the blog for World Turtle Day. While we were sitting and eating dinner, my friend suddenly jumped up with fright and pointed at something in front of our table. A huge turtle suddenly emerged and walked past our table to settle by another table. Now, both of us were in a dilemna. Should we mention that there was this huge turtle sitting next to us? What if the restaurant owners captured it to serve it as a delicacy the next day? So, we kept quiet and continued eating our food till a waitress walked by and let out a tiny shriek when she saw this turtle. We immediately tried telling her that the turtle was harmless and that it was an endangered animal. After giving us a blank gaze, she called out to the other waiters. We continued with our conservation speech, while one burly waiter tried to lift the huge turtle. We heaved a sigh of relief as he was unsuccessful in his efforts. Nobody seemed to pay too much attention to anything we were saying and people just crowded around this turtle and watched as she walked around in confusion. We tried telling them that they should move away as they were probably scaring the turtle, but our pleas were ignore. I guess all that standing made everyone tired and people gathered chairs and sat around the turtle, waiting for something to happen. Unsure of what the fate of the turtle was going to be, we decided we should gently remind everyone about their endangered status. And then, a man tells us "Turtles used to be sacrificed in Bali earlier. But, now we know that there are very few turtles left and that is why we have a conservation trust for them. No turtles on killed on this island anymore". Phew! And right after that, we heard a few people squealing with excitement. The turtle was laying eggs!!!! Right there..in front of our eyes. Ahhh, now it all made sense. Everyone had taken a seat around the turtle because they knew it had come to lay eggs. I can't do justice and even begin to explain how beautiful it was to witness a turtle laying eggs...it is just something you have to see on your own. Being the foreigner there, the locals made sure I got to see the turtle and everyone left with a big happy smile after the turtle finished laying her eggs and tottered back to the ocean.
So, that is how my turtle story ends (on a good note :)).... and now, Tharini shares her turtle story.

When Maya first told me about the turtle story she was doing, I absolutely HAD to share my turtle walk experience. In March 2008, around twenty of us from college went for the a turtle walk that is organised every year by the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network. Arun Anna and Akhila from The School were there to lead us. They explained to us the funda behind the turtle walks, how little turtles get attracted to the street lamps and move away from the sea and towards the roads, about the people and the dogs who dig up the eggs after they had been laid... What people did on turtle walks was to check if any eggs had been laid by the turtles and transferred them to the hatcheries in Besant Nagar beach, somewhere near Broken Bridge, which is considerably safer for the hatchlings.

The starting point was Neelangarai Beach around midnight. After a brief talk on what to expect on a turtle walk and how we shouldn’t be disappointed if we didn’t see anything, we set off. I admit we made a noisy group, some singing, everyone chatting as they walked along the sea shore, the waves lapping at our feet. It was a full moon night, and walking in the moonlight was incredibly beautiful. People stopped and rested in catamarans, someone pulled out a guitar and started playing... Like I said, an incredibly noisy group until we saw our first turtle. It was on the beach, a hundred yards away from the water, patiently laying eggs. The thing about turtles is, when they lay eggs, they go into a sort of trance and they don’t know what’s happening around them. When they choose the spot for laying, however, everything must be extremely quiet and still or the turtle would feel that the place was unsafe and leave to lay her eggs elsewhere.

People crowded around the turtle, eager to watch. There were easily forty people in the group, so the organisers had to make us sit on either side of the turtle and, once she had started laying, allowed us to go closer in batches and watch. About a hundred odd eggs later, she filled the hole again with her back flippers, covered the sand and turtle walked back into the sea. Next, our group leader dug up the nest and collected the eggs in a bag which he would later take to the hatchery and re-nest. The eggs were soft as their shells hadn’t set yet and slipped and slid around in our hands.

We continued on our walk. Unfortunately, the second turtle we saw was a dead Olive Ridley was a bit depressing. A little while later, on the slope made by the waves during high tide, our guide thought he saw flipper marks. On checking the sand around that place with a stick, he found that there were a couple of places where the sand was loosely packed. On digging, he found another nest. This time, unfortunately, around four of the 105 eggs were broken (we suspected it was the men who were sitting nearby), but we managed to bag the rest.

Around an hour later, we found one more nest. I was really excited when I recognised the nesting site. It was on a private beach near a friend’s house, not five feet from where I had been sitting at seven the previous evening. Finally, with three sets of eggs from three different nests, we walked all the way to the hatchery
at Broken Bridge, a crudely fenced off area, where we dug holes in the sand and replaced the eggs in their new nests. Of course, we had to clean the eggs first. The yolk and residue from the broken eggs would attract ants and other insects which would prove fatal to the unhatched eggs. The eggs would hatch in a few months, and the turtle walk team would be back to help release the hatchlings back into the sea.
We've decided to upload all the versions of our book 'Turtle Story' to create more awareness about these endangered species. You can READ AND DOWNLOAD the book in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Marathi, Oriya and Kannada.

The recent Gulf Oil spill has also effected the plight of sea turtles and they are currently at risk.

In the case of the most endangered species, the Kemp's ridley turtle, hatchlings leaving their nests in Mexico this season are swimming right into the heart of the spill area, where their instinct to seek shelter and prey among floating vegetation is betraying them by leading them straight to thick clots of oil and oil-soaked seaweed.

There, instead of finding security and food, they are getting poisoned, trapped and asphyxiated.

And if that weren't tragic enough, it turns out that shrimp boats hired by BP to corral floating oil with booms and set it on fire have been burning hundreds if not thousands of the young turtles alive.
Read more about the Gulf Oil spill and the plight of sea turtles here. There are also plans to relocate the nests of the sea turtles to another area. An operation of this scale has never been attempted anywhere in the world. Read more about it here.

You can use this book to spark off a conversation with your child about the environment and the need of conservation. And if your child isn't convinced that he/she can play a big role in helping out, tell them about how 11-year old Olivia Bouler is using her artwork to raise money for birds harmed by the Gulf Oil spill (more here). Simple, yet effective!

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