Friday, 20 November 2015

A safe home for visitors from the deep sea

G.S.Unnikrishnan Nair
        Near Nileshwaram in Kasaragod district of Kerala, the Thaikadappuram beach is famous for the rare Olive Ridley Turtles that visit during the rainy season to lay eggs. The coastal community considered turtle eggs and meat as their food .This resulted in slaughter of these poor creatures and destruction of their eggs. About one and a half decade back, a group of youngsters formed an NGO, “Neythal”; committed to the conservation of environment and biodiversity took protection of these turtles as a challenge. Thanks to their sincere efforts, now this beach spread over 15 km is a safe haven of turtles.

Animal slaughter and sacrifice was an integral part of the life and rituals here. Hence it was very difficult to create awareness against such activities. During “Kulavan Theyyam”,a ritual for local deity  in some parts of Kasargod, certain ‘Kavus’(Sacred groves) between Kanhangad and Manjeswaram area encouraged the sacrifice of  animals like wild boar, barking deer, monkey, porcupine, civet and Malabar giant squirrel. Some of these animals are entitled to absolute protection under Schedule I and II of the Wildlife Protection Act. But no action was taken against the rituals. Neythal filed a public interest petition against this, which resulted in Kerala High court banning animal during Kulavan Theyyam.
 “This High court verdict gave confidence to us to take up the other major issue, Turtle slaughter” says Praveenkumar, Convener of Neythal.
It was in October 2002 that the group started its delicate but dedicated task of collecting and protecting the eggs of the Olive Ridleys. The oval-shaped Olive Ridely turtle (Lepidochely's olivacea) is considered the smallest of marine turtles and is an endangered species (IUCN Status-Vulnerable).  They visit Thaikadappuram during September to March. Neythal began large scale awareness programmes among the local communities beginning 2002.Public meetings, student’s awareness camps, house visits and awareness creation though media were undertaken. Thus the NGO successfully spread awareness regarding the importance of protecting turtle eggs lain on Kasargod’s beaches. The local residents, who used to dig up the eggs and caught turtles to eat them, became conservationists, as they understood how special the turtles were.

Now the coastal area spread over 15 km in Kanjangad, Neeleswaram municipalities and Padanna, Ajanoor panchayats has become the Turtle observation cum protection beach of Neythal. The sand dune eco system on these beaches was the original hatching grounds of turtles. Study by Neythal during 2010 revealed that this ecosystem has been degraded completely due to unscientific construction of coastal walls. This has forced the turtles to lay eggs on temporary sand bars. The eggs are laid during night.  Neythal volunteers collect these eggs and allow them to hatch in the sand pits of Neythal hatchery, which is protected from any type of interference and damage. The members of `Neythal' keep vigil, round-the-clock, to ensure the safety of the hatchlings. Beginning 2002 this NGO has collected about 19000 eggs of which about 14000 has hatched and turtle hatchlings released into the sea.
“The other major problem faced is the development activities in the tourism sector at Thay beach. The indiscriminate development activity in the area which was a pristine beach earlier is raising threat to the breeding centre. Resorts are coming up in the area and many of the construction activities did not consider the aspect of preservation of Olive Ridley.Even the high intensity light emitted by sodium vapour lamps which are being installed in the area are discouraging Olive Ridley from coming to shores. Neythal will continue to organise protests and campaigns against these illegal construction activities”-says Krishnan, an active member of Neythal.
Protecting and saving of injured turtles, seabirds and other creatures is another mission undertaken by Neythal. Owing to the awareness creation, the local inhabitants will report the sighting of injured turtles to Neythal. Volunteers will collect these and protect them in the “Turtles and Seabirds Rescue Centre”. Here turtles are put in tanks filled with salt water and treated with the help of Veterinarians. Once recovered, they are released into the sea.
In order to attract more youngsters and children into conservation activities, Neythal has constituted a group exclusively for kids - the `Neythal Kids.' Considering these efforts Neythal was given the P.V. Thampi Endowment Award for the best environmental activity in the State and the group has also won them the Central Government's National Accreditation under the National Turtle Conservation Programme. As Charles Darwin said-“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius, The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man." Neythal has succeeded in spreading this message in a community which once considered these rare turtles as a mere source of food.