Sea turtles under threat in Kerala coast

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - 11:58

Thiruvananthapuram: Climate change coupled
with construction of sea walls and infrastructure activities
are threatening the habitat of sea-turtles, an endangered
marine species, along the Kerala coast, say conservationists.

The number of sea-turtles along the Kerala coast was fast
dwindling in the last few years due to habitat destructions,
poaching, marine debris and fishing activities, according to
A Biju Kumar, conservationist and faculty member of Department
of Aquatic Biology, Kerala University.

With the "unscientific construction" of granite walls along
seashores, turtles were being deprived of even a small slope
in beaches to get to the sands for hatching, he said.

Out of the 590 KM long stretch of coastline in the state,
only about 150 KM is now without any kind of sea walls, he
pointed out. "The turtles need at least a small slope to get
to the coast for hatching," he said.

Olive Ridley is the common sea-turtle found in the region
along with hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles, he said.

The green turtles sighted in Ponnani coast in the Malabar
region, have not been seen for the past years now, he said.

The dwindling number of turtles is causing concern to
conservationists as it might take another 25 years for them to
come back to our coastal belt once they stopped hatching here.

"Once they stop coming to the seashore for hatching, the
turtles will not come to our coast for the next two decades,"
Kumar said.

As part of conservation measures, formation of a `Model
Coastal Eco-Development Committee` had been proposed for the
Vizhinjam coast near here as a pilot project, Bijukumar said.

The committee would ensure the involvement of local
community in the conservation efforts.

Wildlife and bio-diversity outside forests do not get the
same level of significance as other animals coming under the
Wildlife Protection Act like tigers and leopards, he said.

"Also, when we look at the extent, oceans and marine
ecosystem forms the world`s largest ecosystem covering about
70 percent or more of the earth`s surface," he pointed out.

A multi-pronged approach was necessary for the protection
and conservation of our marine and coastal ecosystem and its
biodiversity, he added.

As a first step in conserving sea turtles, their existing
breeding places had to be protected and strict monitoring was
required to avoid any `human activity` in their territory.

Besides, involvement of local community in protection and
conservation was essential to tackle the problem of poaching
and hunting of the turtles, he said.

Though the sale of sea turtles was banned, its meat trade
was still on in many places of the state particularly in
southern Kerala, he said.

Jayakumar, an activist of `Thanal`, an NGO working in the
environmental field, said the increase in the number of
outboard engine fishing boats had also driven away sea turtles
from the Kerala coast.

Mortality rate of sea turtles due to accidents involving
outboard engine boats was also high, Jayakumar, who conducted
a study on sea turtles for the Centre for Development Studies,
said.

The conservation of sea turtles also comes under the
purview of the Forest Department. But, the department did not
have the required Marine Division and mechanism to enforce
measures to protect and conserve sea turtles, he said.

Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - 11:58

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