Maharashtra: Turtle conservancy project sees record number of Olive Ridley hatchlings this year
A record number of Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings were released back into the ocean by the state forest department’s hatcheries in Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad districts this year. At 23,706 hatchlings, this year’s count is nearly twice as much as 2020 when 12,149 hatchlings were released. It also marks the highest number of hatchlings seen in at least six years, since officials began collecting data on the subject.
There are five species of sea turtles recorded in Maharashtra, and Olive Ridleys are the only one that nest in the state and have widest population distribution. HT had on May 9 reported that the number of Olive Ridley nests in these districts had doubled this year as compared to 2020. During nesting season which runs from December to March, a total of 451 nests were recorded through field observations, up from 288 recorded during the same period in 2020.
The state’s sea turtle conservancy programme involves surveying of turtle nesting sites, excavation of eggs, and their relocation to a nearby hatchery. The hatchery is protected with garden fencing net to keep eggs sade from predators, flooding, and poaching. Subsequently, turtle hatchlings coming out of these nests are released safely to the sea by nest managers.
“The number of nests of Olive Ridley turtles in all the three districts increased in 2020-21 as compared to 2019-20. This number fluctuates every year, but there is a specific increasing trend going back to 2014-15. Overall, more turtle hatchlings have been released back to the sea in 2021 than any previous year,” said Harshal Karve, a marine biologist with the Mangrove Foundation, an autonomous organisation under the state forest department.
“It will require more study to understand why there has been a sudden jump this year, but my hunch is that this is a result of more than a decade of conservation efforts by the state. Hatchlings that were released from these same areas a few years ago are now coming back to lay their eggs as mature adults,” Karve added.
Sea turtle conservancy has been a focus of not only the government, but also NGOs and local communities since the early 2000s. The movement can be attributed almost singularly to the work of an NGO named Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), which started a marine turtle conservation programme in 2002 in Ratnagiri’s Velas village. Since then, a range of measures to conserve turtles have been implemented, including removal of ghost fishing nets from deeper waters and setting up of turtle treatment and rehabilitation centres in multiple districts.
In 2018, a compensation scheme for fishermen under the Wildlife Protection Act was also implemented, which provides cash incentives to fishermen who may inadvertently catch sea turtles while fishing. So far, 96 Olive Ridleys, 52 green sea turtles, three hawksbill turtles and one leatherback sea turtles have been released under the scheme.
A marine respondent group comprising forest department officials was also set up in 2018 to coordinate faster response to stranded cetaceans in Maharashtra, a significant majority of which includes Olive Ridleys.