Mechanized, rampant fishing and trolling along with uncontrolled tourism activities on our beaches have led to turtle injuries.
Wildlifers and others worrying about a decline in turtle nesting in Goa are now faced with another grim situation, as the flippered visitors are landing up ashore critically injured and maimed.
Every monsoon, a few Olive Ridley turtles are seen on beaches wounded, a flipper missing or their shells battered. Animal lovers are pained by the rising cases of injuries and lack of research into their causes. Though these appear insignificant, as turtles are in millions, severe injuries are adding to a rising population of handicapped turtles.
“If one considers about seven nests in Morjim last season, four to five turtles washed ashore recently. That means 80% turtles were injured. The number of injured turtles has also increased over the last three years,” said programme coordinator, centre for environment education (CEE), Sujeet Dongre.
Decades ago, the state entire coastline was their home for nesting and breeding, but poaching of eggs was rampant. Now, tourism activities have pushed them to just four beaches. Turtles are also a flagship species, like tigers, but animal lovers are disappointed that they are not considered on the same lines as the big cats are.
“A turtle takes 25 to 30 years to become an adult. If they are selectively getting washed ashore, specially adult ones, it implies a direct impact on future turtle populations,” Dongre said.
This season itself, forest guards, lifeguards and others have rescued at least five flippered visitors since June. The small number of rescues and turtles released back to sea after being treated does not catch much attention. On an average, five or more Olive Ridleys have been injured over the last three to four years.
Olive Ridleys arrived into Goa much before tourists did. And a homing instinct is known to draw turtles born in a particular place back to it for nesting. Unlike the Odisha coast, where Olive Ridleys nest in thousands, Goa’s turtle conservation has been on a modest scale.
Wildlifers doubt whether maimed turtles will be able to crawl on a sandy beach and dig up and cover their nests after laying eggs. But former scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, B C Choudhury, said, “If a flipper is missing, it can swim and crawl, but may not make an efficient nest,” he said.
Turtles scoop out a nest with their black flippers, but a missing front flipper may hamper covering it up. In that case, forest guards standing by can relocate the eggs.
The cause of injuries may be entanglement in fishing nets and boat or propeller strikes. “These can damage the carapace and cause deformities to the flippers,” a source said.
Creating awareness is perceived to be an immediate option. “Sensitizing fishermen and others to rescue the turtles is important,” said herpetologist and former director of Madras crocodile bank, Gowri Mallapur.