Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network
April 2010: An oft-repeated story has it that a wise man once came across a young boy on a beach, gently tossing washed-up starfish back into the sea. Gesturing towards the hundreds of starfish dying on the sand, he questioned the effectiveness of the child’s action. The boy picked up another one, threw it into the water and turning back to the wise man said, “It made a difference to that one.”
This is the principle that the Student’s Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) in Chennai is founded upon – that every helping hand can make a difference.
Every night from end-December to end April two or three SSTCN volunteers walk along the southern coastal stretch of Chennai picking up olive ridley turtle eggs. They are meticulous in their collection: looking out for the telltale flipper tracks and clearings mothers make around their nests, then, using probes they determine the exact location of the eggs and place them carefully in a cotton bag. The dimensions of the nest and the positioning of the eggs are measured and recorded as it influences the temperature and consequently the sex of the hatchlings. These eggs are then placed in a specially-made hatchery and carefully guarded until they hatch and are then released into the sea.
The SSTCN is primarily run by students following in the footsteps of lauded environmentalists such as Romulus Whitaker, Harry Andrews, Tito Chandy and Kartik Shanker who initiated olive ridley conservation in India.
They describe their mission as threefold: to protect ridley eggs and safely release the hatchlings, spread awareness and provide a platform for young conservationists. To this end, they invite people to accompany them on their nightly walks twice a week, explaining to them the importance of protecting fragile ecosystems and value of ancient turtle species. Presentations in schools and colleges help them find volunteers and they are proud of the fact that in over 20 years they have not accepted a single rupee from corporate sources to conduct their activities – all their funding is collected from friends and well-wishers. Volunteers are self-motivated and draw on incidences like the finding of 27 nests in a single week and watching 600 hatchlings emerge in one night to encourage themselves. Their familiarity with these habitual nesters is evident: they have watched one of them, fondly called the ‘golf course turtle’ on account of the large number of holes she digs in a night, return for years along with another three-flippered female.
V. Arun, Coordinator, SSTCN, narrates a special story: it had been a poor breeding season and in two years only 30 odd nests had been found in total. The SSTCN volunteers were joined on one of their walks by the students of Vidya Sagar, a school for children with special needs. Caring volunteers from the Olcott Memorial School agreed to help push the children down the beach in their wheelchairs and to the surprise of SSTCN volunteers, they came across a nesting turtle, three nests and a troupe of wild hatchlings mere metres from where they had started. The children have since joined the SSTCN and participate in any activity they can.
SSTCN also played a huge role in creating awareness about the World Bank-funded casuarina plantations along Tamil Nadu’s coast that threatened nesting sites. Their campaign resulted in the removal of the plantations.
The SSTCN are doing a unique job – balancing the daily rigmarole of coastal areas close to urban centres and the protection of a primeval animal.
If you want to help them continue their activities or go along with them on one of their walks look up:
or call Akila Balu (9940300200) or Arun (9789864166).
8/25, 2nd Street,
DP Nagar, Kotturpuram,