Saturday, March 3, 2018

Turtle Walk in Chennai

When news that the olive ridley turtles had started to nest in the beaches of Chennai reached us, at the beginning of last week, we quickly put together a plan for our visit. Tickets were booked and calls were made to our friends at The School for a place to rest, Tholkappia Poonga for a visit and to our friends at SSTCN (Chennai Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network) for the overnight walk to watch the nesting. We set off on a Friday morning reaching Chennai by noon. After a quick lunch, we visited the Tholkappia Poonga.

Tholkappia Poonga is an ecological park in the Adyar estuary area. It is an amazing example of restoration of freshwater eco-systems in the heart of a city! We were introduced to the history, the restoration process and the flora and fauna found in the park by Mrs.Gomati. Her energy, passion for ecological restoration, and determination to carry forward the good work shone through in her interactions with us. We recommend it as a must see place for people visiting Chennai.



Our next stop was The School. The intention was to play a little, rest, eat dinner and be ready for the turtle walk at 10.00 PM. The sight of the empty grounds at the school was a shot in the arm and the children played football and Frisbee with an energy that belied the tiredness brought about by the long day. We were then treated to an excellent dinner. The affection and care of our lovely hosts gave us a fresh lease of life. We would need it for the night walk.

We received news that an olive ridley turtle was spotted nesting in the Besant Nagar beach. We rushed towards the beach and reached just in time to watch the turtle finish her nesting. She did a little dance to cover up the nest with sand before heading off into the sea. That would be our only sighting of a live nesting for the night. 

The turtle walk starts at the Neelankarai beach and we reached there by 11.30PM. There was a live Q&A session on everything around turtles with Akila and Harish, volunteers at SSTCN. Once again, their dedication and passion towards the conservation of these lovely creatures shone through in their conversations with us. Finally, we set off on the walk, along the beach, mostly on the water’s edge at about 1.00AM. For the next few hours, we were witness to:  the bright lights that dot the city landscape causing untold misery to the turtles, dead olive ridley turtles and large fishes (they get caught in fishing trawlers) washed ashore and the untiring efforts of the SSTCN volunteers in finding nests and recovering the eggs to be relocated to safe havens, i.e., hatcheries. Around 10,000 eggs were recovered that night. Happy at having been a part of a movement that is fighting a battle for these fragile beings’ survival, we completed our walk and headed out to the Chennai railway station.

You can read about SSTCN and their work here: https://sstcn.org/

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