By J. Arockiaraj
Wildlife officials at the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park (GoMMNP) are coming out with a turtle conservation plan to protect turtle species and their nesting sites in the coastal region. The national park is home to a variety of species like Olive Ridley, Green, Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles and the entire coastal region of Ramanathapuram, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli falling in the Gulf of Mannar are their nesting grounds. While the Leatherback and Hawksbill are critically endangered, the Green and Olive Ridley turtles fall under the endangered and vulnerable categories, respectively as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Though found in good numbers once, the exhaustive fishing activities and coastal establishments and poaching threaten these marine species and the proper conservation plan will be beneficial to save them, wildlife officials from the national park said. Deepak S Bilgi, wildlife warden of GoMMNP said that the conservation plan will work towards conserving the turtles as well as their nesting sites. The restoration of the beaches where they nest and deploying anti-poaching watchers will be part of the plan, he said. They are also planning a hatchery for the turtle eggs and if the funding permits they will come out with that also, Bilgi added. "The conservation plan is in final stages and it would be implemented shortly," he said.
Wildlife officials said that Arichalmunai, Dhanushkodi, Pamban and Kanirajapuram beaches in Ramanathapuram district and Vaipparu area of Tuticorin district are usually found to be the nesting grounds though the conservation plan will undertake further studies on the nesting sites. While the fishing activities pose danger to the adults, the eggs suffer poaching by humans and feral dogs on the beaches. Though poaching of adults have been reported in the region the number of such incidents has come down over the period, the officials added.
Meanwhile, conservationists stressed on creating awareness among the fishing folk. S Bharathidasan of Arulagam, a Coimbatore-based wildlife NGO who has worked in Tirunelveli beaches on turtle conservation between 2006 and 2010 said the fisher folk should be sensitised on using turtle excluder in their fishing gear. "The turtles are poached predominantly for their meat. Though there is awareness on poaching and the number of incidents declining, the real need is to save the turtles being caught in fishing gear. They drown and get killed once they entangled in the nets. Even if the fishermen discard them upon pulling the nets, the turtles would have been dead by then," he explained. "In such cases, using turtle excluder will help conservation measures and the awareness among the fishermen to use it should be given more thrust," he opined.