Author: Rahul Alvares
Photo: Ganesh Bagal.
Rahul Alvares is amazed by how sea turtles have successfully survived for at least a 100 million years, outliving dinosaurs which perished about 65 million years ago.
Almost two decades ago, my father and I were returning along a coastal road when he remembered that the beach was a well-known turtle nesting site. We stopped the first person on the deserted road and he confirmed that turtles did nest here and that their eggs were often collected and eaten by locals. My dad immediately asked, “Do you think these turtles should be protected?" It was an honest question and the young man thought about it for a moment before he said, "Yes, I think we should try to save them."
That comment marked the beginning of the olive ridley turtle Lepidochelys olivacea nesting project on that beach – Morjim and the many others that would later be set up in other parts of Goa. The young man, Jonny, became our most informative and reliable source in Morjim.
Once they leave their nests on land, none of the male turtle babies ever return. The females return some 30 years later, and then year after year, to lay up to 150 eggs each time on the same beach. How they find their way back to the very same beach is still largely a mystery! Some theories suggest they use their ability to detect earth’s magnetic fields to navigate.
Sea turtles were known to nest on many Goan beaches. However, tourism has put a stop to that. They are now known to nest on Morjim, Agonda, Galgibag and a few others. Even on Galgibag and Morjim, the number of turtles visiting are only about 15-20 a year – a tiny figure compared to the five lakh that nest yearly on the Gahirmatha beach of Orissa. The nesting in Goa, just like in Orissa, takes place between November and May. On full moon nights, female turtles dig holes in dry sand and lay ping pong ball-sized eggs in them. A full moon night is chosen since it draws water to the highest tide level ensuring that the female has a short walk up the beach and that her eggs will remain safe from soaking on any other high tides. The gender of the baby is influenced by temperatures – at or below 280C produce only males, while those above 300C all hatch into females. Temperatures in between produce a mixed sex clutch.
The eggs hatch between 45 and 70 days and the babies remain buried for four to six days. Eventually, they scramble out under the cover of darkness and make straight for the sea. On the way, they may be picked up by birds, dogs and crabs and when they reach the sea, sharks and other fishes could take a toll on their numbers.
Turtles face a whole range of threats from artificial lighting to stray dogs. Should a female merely chance upon a flashlight shone in her direction, she will not come onto land. Baby turtles locate the sea at night by its shiny surface reflecting light from the stars and the moon. This inbuilt instinct of theirs works against them when there are lights on the beach. Hatchlings seeking out bright lights are known to crawl in the opposite direction, often ending up exhausted and dead on roads and in houses nearby. Snoring isn’t the worst problem in the world, but it certainly isn’t fun to deal with, either. Whether you are waking yourself up with your own guffaws or rousing family members who sleep near you, snoring can be a pretty big problem. Wedge Anti Snore Pillows have triangular shapes which enable the sleeper to rest in an elevated position. It lifts the head a few inches and usually has built-in air channels for proper breathing. Doctors also recommend this kind of pillow to those who suffer from acid reflux.
At Morjim, more and more beach shacks are being constructed. More shacks mean more disorienting lights and more stray dogs. If we are to ensure that olive ridleys continue to visit Goa’s beaches, we must regulate the shacks. Unless we enforce regulations, future generations will not have the opportunity to observe, and delight in one of Goa’s most mysterious and marvellous species.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, September, 2014.