Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Memorable Experience!

Baby Olive Ridley sea Turtle collection!
This is a long post, oh, as usual.  You can just see the pictures and read the captions to save time!!!

A group of people from our residential complex went on a Turtle walk on 7th March, '15 (last Saturday), conducted by the Tree Foundation, Chennai.

Short description of the Foundation:  Trust for Environment Education (TREE), Conservation and Community Development and Roots & Shoots India- A Dr. Jane Goodall Institute Program. This was founded in 2002.  More details are in the highlighted link pl.  It is interesting.

This Olive Ridley turtle is one of the endangered species now. The Foundation link says, '22nd February 2014 A Black day for All Conservationists and Animal Lovers! This day, last year we had 824 dead turtles in one night at Penna Estuary!'

I had been reading about this Turtle walk for the past couple of years now.  This year we could join the group and it was really a memorable experience.

The programme started from 7.30 pm with a documentary film show on Olive ridley turtles at their office in Neelangarai.  A volunteer, a young girl,  showed us the turtles which are under treatment/observation etc. She was very passionate about this project, I could see. They have named them as Oliver, Pallavi, Karuna etc.! One Green ridley also was there. Its shell looked as if it was painted by an artist.  It got caught in the fishing net and now is under treatment.  These turtles, when are in the sea, come up once in 45 mts. to breathe fresh air.  Some fishermen spread their net in the sea and wait in their boats for 2-3 days and then haul them out and come to the shore.  Sometimes these turtles get caught in these nets and stay under the water with other fish.  They get dehydrated and some die. They are brought to this Foundation by their volunteers for treatment. Dr. Dharini is taking care of this centre, we were told.

Some turtles get caught in the launchers (motorised fishing boats) and their blades cut the flippers of the turtles which are in the sea.  If the centre gets information about them via the fishermen, many of whom are volunteers here, they are treated here, if possible and then sent back to the sea.  Out of 4, even turtles with 3 flippers can manage in the water, we were told. 

The turtles mostly look for beaches with warm temperature which are suitable for hatching their eggs.  They come to these places (details are in the wiki link) at midnight  from January to March to dig pot shaped holes to lay 100 to 120 eggs at a time (Many people, children from school, colleges, Tech people etc.are volunteers here and they need more, it seems, during these 3 months at least.). The Foundation has got a van describing about the turtles and about their work.  This van goes to schools and the volunteers educate the children about the turtles.

The Tree Foundation's rehabilitation centre is where they take care of the injured turtles. We saw a number of tubs with full grown turtles. One dehydrated turtle even had an IV bottle for a drip. A volunteer said that they have got full-time work here and they need more volunteers.

After the film show, we were taken to the beach to a hatchery (see picture) and the baby turtles were taken out from the holes and kept in a basket.  We were watching their work from the gaps of the hatchery.  I think it is better this way.  Unless we have got experience, we might harm the tiny babies when we handle them.  These baskets were taken to an area near the water.   2 parallel lines (2m. gap), were drawn on the sand and we were asked to stand and watch outside the lines.  No flash bulbs please, we were told.  2 volunteers stood near the water and showed the flash lights in the direction of the baskets.  A volunteer took out the babies one by one and left them on the sand.  The babies started marching towards the light and to the water.  The hatching period is 48 to 52 days, it seems.

Earlier, before the foundation started taking care of the eggs, after the hatching period, the babies started coming out of the hole (pot shaped hole of 2 to 2 1/2 ft. deep) and started walking towards the water on their own.  The sea current/waves' lights used to attract them.  They reached the sea safely. But now, the beaches are full of flood lights (upon the request of organisations like this one, they have stopped switching on these lamps now).  But many bungalows have come up very close to the beach now and they keep the lights on.  We saw these lights even at 12 am.  Don't know how the govt. has allowed to build these buildings close to the sea since after the tsunami, they were banned.  These artificial lights made the baby turtles to scatter on the sand and unless they reached the water within 45 mts. after hatching, they would die, it seems.  Crows and dogs caught them. Now, thousands of babie turtles are saved every year by Foundations like these. One more Foundation is doing this service.

The moonlight helps the mother turtles who come to the shore to nest during mid nights.  They need lot of time to dig holes, lay so many eggs, cover them back smoothly, yes, smoothly and go back to the water.  Their tracks help the volunteers, mostly fishermen, to look for the nests.  The volunteers come there and collect the eggs in a basket along with some sand from the pit and take them to the hatchery where holes are kept ready and mark them.  The eggs come with some gooey substance from the mother and sand sticks on them which acts as food for the eggs, it seems! I got some video links while googling and they are at the end of this post, which show the turtles digging holes, laying eggs, etc. The turtles come back to the same beach they are born every alternate years to lay eggs after they mature! Very interesting!

This link says: The last three years we have been checking the temperature within the hatchery with an external thermometer and maintaining the temperature within 32 degree centigrade. The sex of the hatch ling is determined based on the temperature in the nest during incubation period.

I think more information should be read from the links now! After the babies were released, our group walked on the shore from Neelangarai upto Prarthana theatre and back.  It took 3 hours.  If we had stayed for some more time, if luck was there, we could have spotted the mother turtles who came to lay eggs too! But it was late.  We had taken some sandwiches and water with us.  And then walked! The volunteers (one person was with Amazon) were with us throughout.

We saw many crabs running here and there in the beach near the water while walking back.  They were very fast.  I think they ran to the water as soon as they saw the lights from the volunteers' torches...(they might have thought 'killers are coming'!). They looked beautiful.  The friends who came with us were good and we chatted all the way and it was not boring at all! Watching the bright moon and sea water was peaceful! I always love the sounds of the waves, esp. at night.  
Now, to the picture story!

A young volunteer is explaining about Olive Ridley Turtle! Click on the pictures to view clearly!

I was allowed to scratch this turtle's belly...I thought he would enjoy my touch like my dogs and cats did!
We are walking past the bamboo hatchery where the eggs are kept in sand holes for hatching. It takes 48 to 52 days for the eggs to hatch, it seems. Every detail was catalogued by the volunteers.
Eggs are inside the hole under the basket. Temperature is maintained inside the holes with thermometers, left inside the hole (32 degrees is the ideal temperature, we were told).  If the temperature raises, they cover the roof to give them shade.

The volunteers are taking out the baby turtles from the holes and place in a basket.  They mark the squares where the  holes are dug by them earlier to place the eggs.  They remember not to stamp on the holes and walk on the empty spaces/squares.  They keep tags like no. 2, no. 3 hole etc.  They remember/keep notes on the no. of days the eggs are inside to check later.

The Yolk sack (the centre part) of the turtle where food is stored.  We should not touch this part, since it is very fragile.  We have to hold it on the sides always. Their main food after they grow up is jelly fish and other sea creatures.
Babies are 'running' towards the sea!
The babies are released on the sand.  The volunteers flash lights, standing near the water so that the babies can walk towards the water.  The smell of the sea and the smooth surface near the water helps them walk faster! We were asked not to take photos since the flash might distract them and turn towards our light.  2 lines were drawn and we were made to stand outside the lines and watch.  The babies were walking between the lines! The scent of the sea also helps them to reach the water, the volunteer said. They were very fast, running with their tiny feet/flippers.  Some children were with us who were shouting when they came near the lines! Children really enjoyed this trip!
Click on the picture to see clearly.

Close up shot of the baby turtles rushing towards the sea.! We could see their tiny foot marks which are not visible here.  They were beautiful!

                     I got this picture from the net. The mother turtles are nesting in the beach in Mexico.                             Picture courtesy: claudio giovenzana www.longwalk.it (Wiki)
Their main predators are humans in the sea and land.  Crows and dogs are other predators on land. Got this picture from 'The Hindu'. 
We saw hordes of crabs running towards the sea as soon as they saw the flash light of our guide! It was fun watching them.  They were cream in colour with long legs! My friend was holding a crab boldly!
Now, to the interesting 'you tube' links:

Olive Ridley Turtle 'digging' its nest.

Olive Ridley Turtles 'laying' eggs

Olive Ridley Turtles 'running' towards the water!

I think I might go back again soon.  The Turtle walk is there till March end! I and my son enjoyed our trip! I can still remember, even after 3 days, how I felt walking under the moon at midnight, when the waves were coming to touch me in the beach! Awesome!

They charge Rs.150 per head and we can donate more for the organisation if we feel.  They need lots of help. The Turtle walk is there every Friday and Saturday till the end of March.

Latest news about these turtles: Around 69,772 Olive turtles arrive in Odisha to lay eggs


Destination Infinity said...

This is good work. I might want to go to this turtle walk someday. I guess the best thing for the turtles to do is, create settlements outside human areas. But such areas are very rare nowadays, I guess.

Destination Infinity

SG said...

Really a memorable experience. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.

Sandhya said...

DESTINATION INFINITY: Their instinct is better than us. They don't have anyother place to go. Now, they are concerned with just survival.

SG: Thank you, SG!

KParthasarathi said...

Thanks for the informative article with pictures to understand.

Ramakrishnan said...

What a fascinating and thrilling account of your experiences from your turtle walk. Captivating pictures too. Great work by the conservationists and volunteers.

sm said...

turtle walk sure is a memorable journey like the pics also

Sandhya said...

K PARTHASARATHY: Thank you, Partha Sir! I am seeing the turtles for the first time in my life!

RAMAKRISHNAN RAMANATHAN: Yes, they are doing a great job! Thank you!

sm: Thank you, sm!

logic said...

Nicely captured thanks for sharing your experiences that brings delight for whoever reads it

Sandhya said...

LOGIC: Thank you, Logic!

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