Number of sea turtles visiting Kerala shores dwindling

Viju B The Times of India 14 Nov 11;

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Unpolluted Kerala beaches have always been the favourite nesting grounds for marine turtles, but their imprints may soon be washed away for ever.

During this time of the year, thousands of turtles swim ashore along the coastline and make nests in the sand; they then lay eggs, hatch and breed before the summer sets in.

But a Wild Wildlife Fund(WWF) survey reveals that this year only two species of turtles - Olive Ridley and Green Turtle, have reached the Kerala shores.

"Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles are yet to be spotted, which is a matter of great concern,'' says Renjan Mathew Varghese, state WWF director.

WWF researchers say the number of turtles reaching Kerala coast has been dwindling over the years.

"We are not ruling out the possibility of poaching of turtles for their eggs and meat,'' says Varghese.

Wildlife activists say poachers scout for eggs during night and then sell it for Rs 10 per piece. "The meat of one turtle is sold for Rs 500,'' a WWF volunteer said.

The poachers also cash in on the prevailing dogma that turtle meat and eggs are a good cure for asthma.

Wildlife activists say there is little monitoring done along the coast and the poachers have a field day during the breeding season. Also, many turtles get caught in trawling nets and then die due to lack of oxygen.

"Many fishermen see turtles as their enemies as they feel their fishing nets get destroyed because of them,'' says Varghese.

Indian coasts have been a safe haven for marine turtles for thousands of years. Out of the seven species of turtles found in the world, five have been reported from India.

Turtle landings and nesting have been reported in coastal states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

A senior official from the environment department said they are planning an awareness and conservation campaign amongst the communities living along the coast to preserve breeding habitats of turtles.