Friday, February 23, 2018

Turtles of Rushikulya - Mass nesting

Every February some mysterious force brings thousands of Olive Ridley turtles to this beach in Odisha, the very beach on which these turtles hatched some years ago. Last year, at this remote beach just south of where the river Rushikulya enters the Bay of Bengal, we saw the life-affirming sight of a million hatchlings crawl out of their nests in the sand and make it to the sea. This year we wanted to witness the mass nesting and we were lucky that on both nights we visited the beach, we got to witness large arribadas. While the visuals from last year, of the sands teeming with hatchlings, are still fresh in my memory, the sight of the imposing grownups covering the beach is even more dramatic. The mothers came in waves, headed straight to their chosen real estate, worked their rear flippers in surprisingly deft fashion to dig a square hole, dropped a hundred-odd eggs, filled the hole with sand, and patted the area down with their bellies before crawling back to the waters. The odd tourist here and there didn’t seem to deter their sense of purpose. At the risk of anthropomorphising, they almost seemed to be in a trance. I could have watched the scene all day, all week.

That day, on the beach, there was a specimen of another species who also seemed to be in a trance, and whose sense of determination rivalled that of the pregnant turtle mothers. Rabindranath Sahu has been working on the conservation of this turtle population in his area for years now, and you could tell that nights like these are his rapture. The size of the arribadas has been growing in this area, thanks in no small measure to the work of this man. As long as he stays in his trance, I know the turtles here will thrive.