At 7 in the morning, you hear a loud chant of ‘Ganapati Bappa Moraya’ and see a bunch of local kids running towards the beach. Behind them are some volunteers carrying a small basket. A new batch of baby turtles has come out and this crowd of locals and visitors has gathered to wish them a happy journey to the ocean. Anjarle and Velas turtle festivals are a step in spreading the message of marine life conservation among the public.
Anjarle is one of the sites on the Konkan coast where the turtle conservation movement has shown effective results. Located in Ratnagiri district, this beach, along with Velas, has been serving as the host to mother Olive Ridley Turtles who come to lay their eggs. Lack of human settlement, clean beaches and artificial lighting are the primary reasons why the turtles select these spots.
This year, Anjarle beach itself saw more than 50 hatchlings making their way to The Arabian Sea. These eggs are collected and protected, thanks to the equal contribution from local NGOs, villagers and the forest department. The eggs take almost two months to hatch and if unprotected, will be destroyed by crabs, dogs and birds. During the hatching season, the members of local NGOs, Kasav Mitra Mandal and Sahyadri Nisarga, dig these eggs out of their nests and preserve them in manmade hatcheries. The dates of the turtle festival are announced two months from the time when the first mother Ridley arrives on the beach to lay eggs.
The festival starts at 6 in the morning. The volunteers clean the beach and make a small barricade where the baby turtles are supposed to be released. After checking the nests, the baby turtles are collected and released near the beach. From there, their walk toward the ocean begins. This is a huge achievement because when left on their own, only one baby turtle out of 100 is able to reach the ocean.
It is important to leave the babies and let them walk towards the shore as it helps them record earth’s geomagnetic lines. These lines are imprinted in their memory and when the time comes for the grown up females from this batch to lay their eggs, they return to the same spot. Baby turtles walk towards the light, the reason why morning and evening is the best time to let them go.
The model behind the nest protection is simple. In 2002, Bhau Katdare, founder of Chiplun-based NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, came up with the idea of paying the locals to protect a nest, who used to steal the eggs and sell them. Local homes in both Anjarle and Velas have now been developed as homestays, giving the visitors an experience of the Konkani lifestyle. These homes have basic amenities and the prices range between `800 and 2000, depending upon the facilities you are looking for. The stay comes with a taste of local Konkani food comprising rice, fish, and vegetables prepared using their authentic recipes.
Anjarle is about 200 km from Mumbai, 200 km from Pune and 300 plus km from Goa. The region is bestowed with a number of untouched beaches. Apart from the turtle nests, you can also take a boat ride to Harnai and explore the Fattegad Fort.
The battle for turtle conservation doesn’t end here. As of now, all seven species of marine turtles have been listed as endangered species. Plastic and ocean garbage result in the maximum turtle deaths. Freeing the beaches of plastic will contribute a lot in this battle. As noticed, after years of cleaning at Versova beach in Mumbai, the Olive Ridley Turtles returned to lay their eggs and a batch of hatchlings made their way to the ocean. A small step is very important in a bigger chapter of environmental conservation.