69,874 Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings were released into the sea from beaches in Visakhapatnam as part of the Ridley Sea Turtle Conservation project by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department (APFD). This year, around 80,000 turtle eggs were collected from the city’s beaches and housed in hatcheries made especially for these eggs. APFD Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Visakhapatnam, CP Vinodkumar said, “These hatcheries are established every December, when the turtles come and lay their eggs, and they are run till May, when they all hatch and are sent into the sea.”
The APFD’s initiative was started in 2015 and is funded by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Simhadri, a Public Sector Undertaking, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. The APFD is also partnered with the Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA), an NGO. Pradeep Nath of the VSPCA said, “There is a 20% increase this year in the number of turtles compared to last year.” However he also mentioned that there was a 20% decrease in the number of turtles in the beaches of Visakhapatnam, and this needs to be addressed. This could be attributed to the increasing tourism in the city and pollution of the beaches, he said.
These turtles migrate in massive numbers to the Bay of Bengal every December and throng several beaches along the east coast. Odisha’s coastline is visited by several hundred thousand turtles every year, which is the highest among all other states. The DFO also said, “Our conservation efforts are not only in Vizag, but also in the beaches of East and West Godavari, Nellore, Ongole, Prakasam.”
The turtles lay their eggs in sand pits on these beaches and go back to the sea after which volunteers of this conservation project track the eggs, following the footprints of the turtles. The volunteers then house the eggs in artificial sand pits in the hatcheries, and release the turtles into the sea around 100 days after they hatch.
The conservation of these species is of special importance because they are classified as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list of threatened species. This classification implies that these turtles are at high risk of extinction because of humans and require human intervention to survive.