Eggshells of Olive Ridley turtles found; Versova beach confirmed as nesting site | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Eggshells of Olive Ridley turtles found; Versova beach confirmed as nesting site

Officials say they have found evidence that proves that Olive Ridley turtles hatched at Mumbai’s Versova beach, after naturalists raised doubts

mumbai Updated: Mar 23, 2018 21:30 IST
Badri Chatterjee
The turtle egg shells were found on Friday morning at Versova beach.
The turtle egg shells were found on Friday morning at Versova beach.(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

Forest officers and locals found several hatched Olive Ridley turtle eggshells at Versova beach on Friday morning, after which the Maharashtra forest department confirmed that the beach had, indeed, become a turtle nesting site after two decades.

The confirmation comes a day after around 80 hatchlings were spotted waddling into the sea by beach clean-up crusaders and morning walkers, and questions were raised by some naturalists and animal welfare groups about the authenticity of the phenomenon.

“There is no further cause for doubt about the authenticity of this wonderful event. We can confirm that Versova is a turtle nesting site as we have uncovered the eggshells. It is a truly inspiring discovery. This was missed by people who raised questions about this on Thursday. We probed further and found evidence,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

On Thursday, the hatchlings were spotted around 9.30am by beach clean-up crusader Afroz Shah and his team near Sagar Kutir Wadi. Later in the day, however, city-based environmentalists raised doubts after they could not spot any eggshells on the beach and asked the state to verify the authenticity of the phenomenon.

Around 10pm on Thursday, NGO Vanashakti filed a complaint with the state mangrove cell for an inquiry into the event.

As per the state mangrove cell’s panchnama, filed on Friday morning, Prashant Deshmukh, range forest officer (western region), along with other officers, dug up a spot to the side of the 3x5 foot deep pit, and discovered several broken shells deep beneath the sand. “Twelve eggs had not hatched, and there were another four broken eggs with dead baby turtles in them,” Deshmukh said, adding that samples have been collected for testing.

“As of now, a total of 103 baby turtles have been counted, of which 80 made their way into the sea on Thursday, another seven have been rescued and released by animal rescue groups, 12 eggs have not hatched but the hatchlings are dead, and another four died,” he revealed.

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.

Read:More than 100 stranded whales die on Australian beach

“The possible first ever nesting report of an Olive Ridley on the Mumbai coast has sure taken a mysteriously interesting turn with the finding of a pile of eggshells rather deep in sand. Evidently the methi (fenugreek) cultivation may have covered the exact spot and it is believed the hatchlings emerged from the sides of the cultivation pit, quite peculiarly so. For sure a most unusual nesting record of the species. But I feel it is premature to proclaim if Mumbai now has a turtle-nesting beach,” said Sunjoy Monga, ornithologist and naturalist writer.

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

According to him, reports of turtle nesting at Versova beach 20 years ago have never been documented properly, so “this stands to be the first official documentation of such an event”.

It looks like after the clean-up by crusader Afroz Shah and other volunteers, the site had become favourable for turtle nesting. “There is a high chance that there are more nests in the same area. To avoid them being destroyed, we have deputed 12 forest officers at the site to ensure people do not dig up the beach,” Deshmukh said. “We now have a strong case to set up a turtle rescue centre here; work will start soon. There many details linked to this event that need to be analysed by the department to ensure the smooth movement of these turtles into the sea.”

Olive Ridley turtles
  • An adult turtle weighs around 50-60 kg and can be more than 2-3 feet in length.
  • Olive green in colour, these turtles have oar-like limbs and have a nail each on the front limbs.
  • Their food consists of hard gastropods, animals with shells, and jellyfish.
  • Female turtles come back to their own nesting sites to lay eggs. Male turtles never come back to the same beach again.
  • Female turtles visit the shore during late evening, make a pit on the sandy beach, lay eggs in the pit, cover it up using their fins and then return to sea, never to come back.

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 slum-dwellers, 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”.

Shah and three other Versova residents spent the entire night at the beach to protect the nesting site. “It does not matter if people doubt our efforts as what is true will always be reflected sooner or later. Our patience and regular efforts have ensured that this beach has become home for marine species, and we will ensure that we keep it this way,” Shah said.

At least 80 healthy baby turtles were spotted on Versova beach on Thursday morning. (Photo courtesy: Afroz Shah)

Stalin D, director of NGO Vanashakti, said: “Now that the forest department says there is proof, the area should be cordoned off completely, and a stop should be put on beach clean-ups here too. Further, the beach is well-lit, making it unlikely that adult turtles will choose the site for nesting in the future, so that has to be changed. There are still a few doubts that remain regarding the size of the pit and why photographs from Thursday showed people standing inside them. They would have crushed the remaining eggs.”

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.

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