Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals
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Sea Turtle Protection

Sea Turtle report for the 2006 – 2007 Season

Previous Sea Turtle reports: 2005 - 2006 Season, 2004-2005 Season and 2003-2004 Season.

I. Background

VisakhaSPCA’s sea turtle protection project is now in its eleventh year. Through unwavering dedication, diligence, and the efficient use of minimal resources, the protection of sea turtles, mainly Olive Ridleys, in our target area has set us in the right direction for even further achievement of our conservation goals.

Since beginning this project in the 1996-1997 breeding season, our objective of preventing the cruel and unnecessary illegal poaching of these animals for human consumption has remained constant. In addition, the negligence of fishermen in using the proper devices to avoid entangling the turtles in their nets has been a major concern to us.

Olive Ridley turtle

Nightime photo of Olive Ridley going to nest taken by VSPCA volunteer ‘06

Originally covering the relevant areas from Visakhapatnam Beach to Bhimili, Pudimadeka, and Gangavaram, we have extended our efforts another 40 kilometers north towards the coast of Orissa. The cooperation and active participation of the members of the fishing communities lying within these areas has been extremely important, as well.

The protection of endangered species is nothing new and many people have the attitude that it is the proper thing to do, in fact. Increasing awareness of the issues concerning sea turtles has been invaluable in ensuring that this attitude is converted into action, ultimately leading to complete conservation.

Our approach has been multifaceted, involving fieldwork, community-based awareness campaigns, legal processes, and pleas to religious sentiment. So far, all of these aspects have resulted in successful progression towards the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles. We hope that our efforts will have a snowball effect, spreading our message further, gaining cooperation and increasingly efficient coordination with all concerned parties. If such an attitude is developed and acted upon, we will ultimately cover the entire 900-kilometer coastline of Andhra Pradesh.

Currently, the largest rookery in the world for the Olive Ridley sea turtle lies on the coast of Orissa. However, based on consultation with experts, as well as close examination of the evidence, we have strong reason to believe that the beaches of Andhra Pradesh closest to Orissa have the potential to become one of the most significant nesting grounds in the world for the Olive Ridley. These areas have been found to be more suitable for nesting purposes in many ways. Wide areas and more pristine beaches mean the hatchlings have a better chance of making it to the sea and surviving.

II. Areas Covered

Since its inception in the 1996-1997 season, when it covered a measly four kilometers, we have extended this project to a span of forty kilometers by fieldwork protection and sixty kilometers for our awareness and education campaigns. Our work has reached up to Anavaram, an area comprised of twenty-four villages. The fishing communities enthusiastically accepted the concept and there was a significant and noticeable change in their feeling that protecting these animals is their inherent and moral duty.

III. Community Participation

We began the community-based protection aspect of our project in 2003-2004 and have found it quite effective. The initial motivation for moving our efforts into the community was a lack of sufficient resources to expand our coverage area by strictly using on-site fieldwork. Subsequently improving on our original outreach model, we came to the conclusion that only by building the understanding, compassion, and direct participation of the community members involved would genuine and long-lasting results be achieved.

IV. Volunteer Participation

We have had local and international volunteers contribute towards our cause. The combination of knowledge and ideas that our people have individually brought to this project has been very useful in allowing us to evaluate our progress from different perspectives and adjust our tactics accordingly.

V. Awareness Campaign

We launch the beginning of every sea turtle breeding season from a joint organized meeting of all the departments concerned. This includes the Forest Department, fishing industry representatives, Central Institute of Fishing Training, Fishermen Association, and various NGO’s.

Recently, the Rotary Club cooperated with us to organize a stimulating awareness campaign for school children, which included a beach cleanup. Also, the Forest Department permitted us to use one of their building structures on the beachfront to execute an education campaign.

VI. Hindrances

Serious obstacles, fueled by ignorance and a complete lack of sympathy, sense of responsibility, and morality continually hamper the progression of our efforts.

In the name of development, gross violations of marine laws have been committed. The Central Regulation Zone is made a mockery of by those who remain in the position to decide the critical areas themselves. We have been fighting for the past six years to disallow beach sand mining, as it will completely wipe out the sea turtle’s habitat. We also fought in court, and were successful in preventing the expansion of a highway that would have cut right through turtle nesting sites along the twenty-four kilometer span of Bhimili Beach. However, they were allowed to expand the highway on the landside. Of course, unscrupulous businessmen have plans to build beach resorts along this highway, which will increase human interference and further threaten the turtles. We are constantly battling to see that the authorities observe the CRZ laws and forbid development in sensitive zones.

In fact, tourism figures to pose an even bigger problem in the years to come. Visakhapatnam is one of the fastest growing cities in Asia, possessing beautiful beaches. There is, and will continue to be, a rush to determine who can exploit these areas for commercial purposes first.

Another hurdle we face, if not somewhat more optimistically, is our quest to gain the cooperation of the fishing trawler associations to adopt the principle of using the Turtle Excluder Device on their fishing nets. Due to their non-compliance, thousands of adult sea turtles are cruelly strangulated and drown in their nets.

VII. Figures and Statistics

1. Annual Nest and Death Figures since 2003-2004

2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006** 2006-2007
Location
Nests
Deaths
Nests
Deaths
Nests
Deaths
Nests
Deaths
Coastal Battery to VUDA
197
67
91
N/A
118
N/A
149
9
VUDA to Endada
123
N/A
62
N/A
169
N/A
160
1
Endada to Bhimili
37
19
76
N/A
56
N/A
62
7
Bhimili to Anavaram
*11
*20
*51
*10
84
N/A
73
N/A
TOTAL
357
86
229
10
427
N/A
444
17

* From 2005-2006 we expanded our monitoring coverage area from Peddanaganayyapalem to Anavaram. The figures before then represent a shorter stretch of beach.

** The tsunami, which struck at the beginning of the nesting season in December 2005, disrupted the trawling boats’ usual activities. Thus, significant, verifiable deaths were too difficult to record.

2. Empty Nest and Immediate Return Figures for 2006-2007

Empty Nests: 23
Immediate Returns: 30

Beginning this past season we began recording two new figures, “empty nests” and “immediate returns”. Empty nests can be found for a variety of reasons, often indeterminable. Poaching by humans or stealing of the eggs by other animals such as dogs and cats are a couple of these reasons. Sometimes, the sea turtles will dig false nests before deciding on a suitable area to dig the real one. Therefore, empty nests do not always indicate a loss of potential hatchlings.

An immediate return indicates that a mother turtle has gone ashore but returned to the water before digging a nest. This figure is calculated by following the turtle’s tracks in the sand. It is possible that she found the area too unsuitable for making a nest or laid the eggs before she had time to dig a nest.

VIII. Conclusion

To judge the success of this program in a vacuum, evaluated solely by the numbers, would paint an incomplete picture of the complex and dynamic issues surrounding the conservation of the Olive Ridley sea turtle. We believe the project has been quite successful and any uncertainties born out of specific statistics just demonstrates the need for a further increase in our efforts.

The sample years do not cover the entire life of this project because there was a significant jump in our coverage area between the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons. The chosen seasons are the ones that are most comparable to each other in terms of the length of the coastal area we monitored.

It is our opinion that the number of nests monitored is perhaps the most important figure. This past season we were able to locate and monitor more nests than any other year in the history of the project. Every nest we find is carefully watched by our fieldworkers who make sure that the eggs are protected and the hatchlings are given every opportunity to make it into the sea. The survival rate of these baby turtles is extremely low regardless, but every one that gains safe passage into the sea is one more potential animal that will reach adulthood and reproduce. As we continue to evaluate our methods and improve our training methods, we expect the effectiveness of the nest monitoring activities to continually improve.

The number of deaths is more difficult to figure out. The sharp decline in identified deaths between the first two seasons is a testament to the improvement of our methods between those years. Discounting the death figures for the season that started after the 2005 tsunami, our figures rose slightly, but not alarmingly from 2004-2005.

It is possible that after a lost season, the trawler operators were more defiant in using TED devices on their nets in an effort to make up for losses at the expense of the sea turtle. This was also our first real season after extending the area we monitored in the past. New workers had to be hired and trained to cover this area and additional resources diverted to reach out and educate those fishing villages.

In the end, it probably goes to show that the human threats to this animal are annually increasing and have no intention of being defeated so easily: commercial fishing, development in the name of tourism, additional construction projects which interfere with these nesting sites, etc.

Our foremost concern is the survival of the Olive Ridley turtle for many generations to come. Following that, we must do all we can to come up with the required funds every season to reach out to an increasing number of communities and hire more fieldworkers to monitor and protect this expanded area. Despite the success of our community outreach programs, overall success will only be attained by cooperation of all parties from the grassroots to the government level.

It is a travesty that our government, and surely governments worldwide, looks the other way when it comes to enforcing certain laws that might reduce business and profit, even if this destroys the lives of precious species that the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecology depends on. The lax enforcement of the laws governing the use of TED on trawling nets is inexcusable, when their use results in only a 2% loss of fish.

Therein lies our belief in the community outreach approach, coupled with effective fieldwork. Our society might be run by government branches, but it is still populated by regular people like the fishermen who also contribute to the Olive Ridley’s endangerment by their dietary habits and negligent fishing practices.

Please do everything you can to help spread the message about the plight of the sea turtle and help our conservation efforts!