by Aswin Sankar
If we take a walk in Chennai’s coastal area by 11:00pm – 04:00am during January to March we can see those females, who won the race with a rabbit in our kindergarten books, who were born in this coastal area a decade ago, travelling back home to lay their eggs. Yes, they’re Olive Ridley Turtles.
They got their name from head-shaped, olive green colour carapace. It will take 45days for these eggs to hatch. Once the babies are out, they will get into the sea for a long journey. It is a known fact that Olive Ridley turtles travel long-distance but how far? According to a paper that was published in the Chelonian Conservation and Biology, a peer-reviewed semi-annual scientific international journal of turtle and tortoise research, Olive Ridley turtles can travel as far as 9000kms! These babies which come to life in Chennai’s coastal area are capable enough to travel to Australia or South Africa or even to Japan! Though many babies come to life, only one out of 1000 turtle babies make it to adulthood.
These babies which leave Chennai within a short time after their birth comes back to the same place after 15years to lay eggs as they attain sexual maturity. After leaving Chennai’s coast, these babies feed themselves with algae, small fish and fish eggs. As they grow, they’ll have a varied diet of eating algae, lobsters, crabs, tunicates, jellyfish, shrimp, fish, and fish eggs. They can dive 200m to 500m deep for food. These varied diets help Olive Ridley Turtles to grow as big as two feet and they weigh around 35kgs. Olive Ridley turtles practice nesting in mass, solidarity and sometimes in mixed strategy. Chennai is not the only place these turtles live, they are spread across tropical waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. They can be seen in the coastal areas of 80 countries.
Though it is said that Olive Ridley turtles are abundant, in the past two decades their population has been decreased by 30% globally. The major reason for this population drop is pollution. These turtles eat plastic bags and other microplastics thinking that it’s jellyfish and other small fishes. Also, they get stuck in ghost nets and clothes which make it difficult for them to swim in the water and move inland. And due to pollution in coastal areas, babies struggle to reach the water. To prevent them from these pollutions, to ensure these babies reach the water and come back for nesting after a decade safe, there are several organizations working around the world. E.F.I. is one among them. E.F.I. conduct several beach clean-ups to keep the coastal area and the ocean clean. It is because of these organizations, even after a decade those babies who leave their home after a short time, travel back home.
Image source: Olive Ridley Project, WWF, Roundglass sustain