Every February and March, a fascinating event takes place in the remote Maharashtra village of Velas. Olive Ridley sea turtles hatch from their eggs and follow the scent of moisture in the air to head towards the Arabian Sea.
This isn’t an easy journey for the baby turtles – only one Olive Ridley turtle out of every thousand eggs is said to make it to adulthood.
The cooler months allow the turtles to swim thousands of miles to mate offshore. Female turtles dig pits up to two feet deep, lay about 150 eggs, and cover them before returning to the sea.
These nests, however, are not safe from human activities on the beach and pollution on the shores. Olive Ridleys were declared endangered in 1978.
For a decade, villagers and non-profit groups have worked towards protecting the eggs during the incubation period. Volunteers from NGOs like the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) and the local body Kasav Mitra Mandal (KMM) dig into the pits and carefully transfer the eggs to man-made hatcheries.
Between 40 and 60 days after hatching, the baby turtles are released into the sea. To encourage this conservation movement, this period is celebrated as the Turtle Festival in the area.
A similar conservation effort is followed by Odisha’s fisher communities. The Nasi Islands inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, and the mouths of the Devi and Rushikulya rivers have been the location of the natural reproduction of Olive Ridley turtles for over a thousand years. In 1998, Operation Kachhapa was launched to patrol no-fishing zones and reduce trawler-related turtle deaths.
In 2017, Ganjam at the mouth of the Rushikulya river saw a record 3.55 lakh eggs laid within a span of seven days.