Olive Ridley turtles hatch at Mumbai’s Versova beach for the first time in 20 years

Updated on Mar 22, 2018 06:08 PM IST

Residents’ clean-up drive ensured the beach is clean enough to harbour turtles, say marine biologists

At least 80 healthy baby turtles were spotted on Versova beach on Thursday morning.(Photo courtesy: Afroz Shah)
At least 80 healthy baby turtles were spotted on Versova beach on Thursday morning.(Photo courtesy: Afroz Shah)
Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

For the first time in 20 years, at least 80 baby Olive Ridley turtles were spotted at Versova beach on Thursday morning, making their way to the sea.

Morning walkers and beach clean-up crusaders were pleasantly surprised on Thursday when they went to Versova beach and spotted newly hatched Olive Ridley turtles waddling into the sea. The hatchlings were first spotted by beach clean-up crusader Afroz Shah and his team around 9.30am near Sagar Kutir Wadi.

Witnesses said around 80 hatchlings emerged from a three-feet-deep pit.

Clean-up activists and animal welfare groups together ensured that the little turtles navigated their way into the sea safely, from the hatching site, which was 30-35 metres from the shoreline.

Residents believe the turtles have come back because the beach is clean now. “It was a delightful sight to see our clean-up efforts bear fruits, as turtles have made their home at Versova beach, probably the only beach in Mumbai where they are currently present,” Shah said.

Both marine experts and officials from the state mangrove cell said this is the first time in two decades that Olive Ridley turtles have been reported to hatch on a Mumbai beach. Shaunak Modi from Marine Life of Mumbai, a group promoting marine life welfare in the city, said: “We counted 80 individuals, saw that they were healthy, and removed all obstacles in their path as they moved towards the sea. We kept birds and dogs away from the site as they are so small. All 80 successfully entered the sea.”

Witnesses said around 80 hatchlings emerged from a three-feet-deep pit which was 30-35 metres from the shoreline. (Photo courtesy: Afroz Shah)

Olive Ridleys are sea turtles found in the warm tropical currents of the Indian and Pacific oceans. An endangered species, they travel thousands of kilometres in the ocean, with females returning to their original nesting sites within a minimum of two years to lay eggs.

Over a period of 126 weeks, Shah and other members of Versova Residents Volunteers (VRV) have removed 13 million kg of plastic and other garbage from what was till then the dirtiest beach in the city. They have carried out over 200 beach clean-up operations, have sensitised local residents and slumdwellers, and moved the state machinery to help them in their efforts. The United Nations has termed their movement as the “world’s largest beach clean-up”.

“We believe there are several more nesting sites and we have begun combing operations in these areas to ensure that the turtles don’t face any problems reaching the sea after hatching,” Shah said.

Threats to the turtles

Consumption of their eggs in coastal countries in the Asia Pacific region

Destruction of their natural habitats

Turtle slaughter for leather and oil

Overfishing

Climate change

“Such an incident has happened after 20 years. The presence of more turtle nesting sites cannot be ruled out,” said Prashant Deshmukh, range forest officer, western region, Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit of the state mangrove cell, after conducting a panchnama at the site. “We will push for the development of a turtle rescue centre close to this nesting site, and we expect it to be built soon.”

Currently, the turtle nesting centres closest to Mumbai are in Raigad and Palghar districts. According to the mangrove cell, approximately 600 Olive Ridley turtles find their way to nesting sites across various districts of Maharashtra, on beaches such as Velas, Anjarle, Harihareshwar, Maral and Diveagar beaches in Ratnagiri every year. However, there have been no such reports from Mumbai for two decades.

“There were reports of turtle nesting near the private beach at the governor’s bungalow (Raj Bhavan), but we have never heard of something like this along Versova beach. This is a historical documentation for Mumbai, and citizens like Afroz Shah should be proud that they have ensured that the beach is clean enough to harbour turtles,” said Vinay Deshmukh, marine biologist and former chief scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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