Introduction

This chapter is an account of the Turtle Protection Campaign carried out by the organization named Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra. The author talks about sea turtles and their presence along the Maharashtra coastline. We learn about the life cycle of turtles as well as their importance to the environment. The author’s organization engaged the local population to successfully carry out their project for the protection and conservation of sea turtles.

Sea Turtles in Maharashtra

The author says that they were surveying white-bellied sea-eagles one summer. While roaming the coast, they found some shallow pits with white eggshells nearby which the villagers said were turtle eggs. They were surprised because they had never seen turtle eggs on Konkan beaches.

They learned that the beach with the eggshells had been sealed to the public for a month because of smugglers. They were also shocked to learn that turtles nest along the entire coastline of Maharashtra. Some people in every village search the beach for turtle eggs in the early morning all year.

When the female turtle comes onshore to nest and lay eggs, she leaves a trail like wheel tracks on the sand. The egg hunters follow this to the nest and dig it up to steal all the eggs inside. These eggs are either eaten or sold. A turtle still laying eggs is allowed to live till the laying is over and then caught, ruthlessly killed, and eaten.

In India, sea turtles are protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. So, the gathering of turtle eggs and the killing of turtles is secretly carried on. The author’s team decided to take on a project for the protection and conservation of turtles and their nests in Maharashtra.

Turtle Protection Campaign

They first studied sea turtles by contacting institutes that work for the protection of turtles. Then they launched a Turtle Protection Campaign at Velas, Taluka Mandangad, District Ratnagiri with the help of the Forest Department. A few local people were told to look for turtle nests on the beach in the morning, carefully remove the eggs from there and bury them again in a pit protected with wire fencing. They had to watch over the protected nest to prevent thefts. They protected 50 nests in the first year through this.

The whole village rushed to the beach to see the eggs hatch. When the tiny turtle hatchlings hurried to sea, everyone clapped for them. Some elderly villagers admitted that they had seen and stolen turtle eggs right from their school days, but it was their first time seeing the hatchlings rushing to the sea.

There are seven types of sea turtles in the world, five of which are found in India. Olive Ridley turtles nest along the entire coastline of Maharashtra. Green turtles and Hawksbills have also been found. When the female turtle reaches maturity after 15 years, she returns to the place where she was born to lay her eggs.

She does not return to the nest after that. The eggs hatch in 45 to 50 days using natural heat. The hatchlings have to face many dangers in the deep sea. So, their survival rate is very low. Turtles keep the sea clean. They occupy an important place in marine ecology, so it is vital to protect them.

After the success at Velas, they applied the project in other places too. The entire Maharashtra coastline was surveyed in five years and protection was offered in eighty villages with turtle nests. The plan was to train and involve the people who steal eggs in the work of protection. The ‘Turtle Friend Awards’ was started to encourage more people to be a part of the protection campaign. A booklet and a short film were made to spread the message.

The 2006 Turtle Festival and its Success

In 2006, the Turtle Festival or Kasav Mahotsava started. It allowed tourists to see turtle hatchlings rushing out to the sea. The festival also included a short film on turtles and the natural beauty of Konkan. It was important that the tourist activity did not harm the hatchlings. The tourists stayed in the homes of the villagers. A Turtle Friends Club was formed in each village. The members were all the villagers who were offering ‘homestay’ to the tourists. All villages offered the same rate for ‘homestay’ and gave ten percent of their income to the Turtle Protection Fund.

Modern technology helped the festival reach all corners of the world through the internet. More villagers started doing this work and the number of ‘homestay’ families went up to 35. More than 800 people began to visit Velas in the Turtle Season which meant more business for the villagers. They realized it was important to protect the turtles because they bring in money through tourism. This was ‘Conservation of Nature through Livelihood’. Velas became the project’s main success story.

Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra, the author’s organization, believed that local villagers can offer excellent protection to local species. So, they entrusted the project to the Forest Department, the Gram Panchayat, the villagers, and their Turtle Friends Club. All of them are handling it wonderfully.

Conclusion

This chapter teaches us about sea turtles and the need to protect and conserve them. The Turtle Protection Champaign that started in Velas spread all over the state and helped save these amazing creatures. It is inspiring to see people working to protect animals and the environment. We must all try our best to help protect the wonderful animals that inhabit our country and make it so beautiful.