Saving India’s Sea Turtles

by DIVYA KARNAD

Chennai.

The cool breeze ruffles the hair of thirty people standing around the hole in the ground. This is no ordinary hole, after all, there are ten torches trained on it and excavations have begun to reveal the treasures of the deep. Treasure hunting of this kind is a nightly affair for some people on the East and West Coasts of India. The treasures do not comprise of gold or diamonds but something equally if not more precious. After all, the sand here is alive, and night after night, between January and April, the sand bears children, some of the oldest the world has ever seen.

Turtles are called ‘living fossils’ and are believed to have originated before the Triassic period. The oldest and most primitive known turtle (Proganochelys quenstedi) dates to 220 million years ago. Yet their general body plan remains much the same even today. The turtles of today can be split into two groups, those that can retract their necks sideways and those that retract their necks straight in. The latter group includes both marine and freshwater species. Irrespective of where they live, turtles, like other reptiles are air-breathers and therefore cannot afford to lay their eggs in water. Instead they dig holes on river banks or in beach sand in order to deposit their eggs. These holes are liberally called nests and in the case of some sea-turtles, can contain up to 200 eggs.

Unfortunately most of the world’s turtle species, including all the marine species, are listed as endangered. These endangered marine turtles are world travelers that undertake long, cross-country migrations. This only complicates the efforts to protect them. Although many of their key threats have been identified and methods to prevent them have been discovered, enforcing their use is an issue in itself. For example the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) that is being effectively used in trawl-fishing nets in the U.S.A. is not effective at all in India. This is not a problem of structural design or cost, but rather a problem of mindset and economy. Although the use of TEDs is mandatory by law, enforcement of laws is a problem. The trawl boat association in Orissa, a state in India that harbors the largest population of the endangered Olive Ridley turtle, claims that the potential 5% loss of fish catch that accompanies the use of TEDs is a price they are not willing to pay. As fisheries decline off the Indian Coast, it is only becoming more and more difficult to convince people to bear this loss.

The conservationist’s approach therefore has been to shift focus. Instead of locking horns with local unions, the conservationists have spotlighted the hatchlings of this species and a number of local non-government organizations (NGO’s), run by anyone from traditional fishermen to schools and city-folk, have responded. Their aim is to protect hatchlings from the menace of human poaching, since turtle eggs are consumed, although turtle meat, for the most part, is not. Nest predation by stray dogs and hatchling disorientation due to artificial lighting along beaches are also important sources of hatchling mortality, which these organizations try to combat.

Yet, these threats pale in comparison to the more looming threats of loss of nesting beaches, both due to direct human interference as well as the larger and more threatening impacts of global warming. After the tsunami that hit the Indian coasts in 2006, a large part of the turtle nesting beaches in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, off the Coast of India, were washed away. Further, prime nesting beaches in Orissa that are part of a marine sanctuary are being threatened by tree planting experiments being carried out on beaches by none other than the forest department. This, unfortunately, is a product of ignorance, since the forest department has been placed in charge of marine sanctuaries without having been provided any training to handle non-forest systems.

But hardly any of these thoughts cross the minds of the people on the beach. The precious eggs are being relocated, into the safety of the hatchery. A few more hours of vigil and the sands will stir with the flippers of the newly emerging hatchlings. They will then be transported down to the high tide zone and escorted into the waves, moonlight and torches guiding their descent into the sea. Irrespective of the unions, politics or climate change; year after year, these dedicated individuals ensure that the ancient ritual of the prehistoric reptiles carries on. Of course there are problems, but something is being done, like it or not. Conservation at the grass roots level: isn’t this it?

DIVYA KARNAD is an ecologist and conservationist from Chennai, India.



 


 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future