Beach walk - 8/Feb/2008

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Feb 8, 2009, 25 people (20 CTC members and some of their friends) met at the Madras Crocodile Bank, ECR for an educational/awareness program on turtle conservation, wildlife spotting, beach cleaning, GPS mapping and full moon drooling activities. Though we planned to meet at 2:30 PM, but due to traffic and other delays, we could make it only an hour later.

"At the Croc Bank - Save the Olive Ridley Turtle"

At the Madras Crocodile Bank, Soham Mukherji, the Asst. Curator, welcomed us and gave a short introduction about the MCBT (Madras Crocodile Bank Trust), their role in reptiles conservation and the other research activities that they're into. This followed a video session, where Shekar Dattatri's documentary (45 minutes) on Olive Ridley was screened: The Ridley's Last Stand. It was sad to watch how the ridleys meet their fate because of man’s greed, but it was a real eye opener for us.
We learnt that the Ridleys nesting are an amazing phenomenon. They lay hundreds of eggs, but less than 10-15% of hatchings actually survive the first week of their life. Ridley females travel hundreds of miles from the Indian Ocean and reach the shores of Bay of Bengal to lay their eggs. The female hatchlings, if survived to grow as an adult, will probably return to the same place to sustain her generation.

The Olive Ridley population and nesting activity is dwindling every year. And the reasons for the decline that we learnt from the documentary are:
    1. Fishing Nets: Trawler activities within 5 km of the shore continue to kill the ridleys, for they are mistakenly trapped in the fishing nets. Though trawling within the specified areas is legally banned, the law enforcement is problem. Also, technology such as the TED nets or Turtle Escape Device nets are available for fishing, which helps the turtles to escape, if they are caught accidentally in the fishing nets without interfering the fish catch. But the fishermen are reluctant to use it in spite of being provided for free of cost.

    2. Lighting around the beach: Ridleys nesting areas are in the high tide zone of the sea shores and the hatchings happen during the night. The hatchlings are extremely sensitive to light and temperature, and hence, before the sun gets into its act, the ridleys should reach the sea to escape death. Normally, the light sensitive hatchlings are guided into to the sea by the moonlight. But the powerful night lights from beachfront residences and highways mislead the hatchlings to the roads, which are later preyed by the predators viz., dogs, birds, and moving vehicles etc.,

    3. Casuarinas Plantations: Any vegetation other than the natural flora of the shores hinders the nesting activity of the ridleys. To create a natural cyclone barrier, humans have raised casuarinas plantations along the shores but this robs the turtles of their nesting grounds. Also, the young turtles get caught in the plantations and die before they can reach the sea.

    4. Garbage: Ridleys are no brainier. The ridleys mistake the plastic bags for Jelly fish and might devour on them. Also, the females may not find a suitable place for nesting.
We CTC members though could not do much about the first two issues, but made an effort to help the MCBT to address the last two. Yes! At the later part of the day, we cleaned the garbage and plastics from the potential Ridleys nesting area and also mapped the casuarinas plantations with GPS along the coast.
Our thirst for learning did not stop! Following the video session, was the presentation of Nikhil Whitaker, the Curator, on how to use GPS to map the casuarinas location.

Post the video session & GPS presentation, we took a tour around the park with the MCBT volunteers (Ganesh and….). The MCBT people were in good humor and were feeding us with a lot of knowledge about the reptiles. Though Pramod gave us 5 minutes for the jay walk around the park, but we couldn’t resist the visit to the IRULA society, which eventually extended the sightseeing time. In the IRULA society, we were given a crash course about snakes and also had a chance to see the venomous snakes found in Tamil Nadu (Krait, Cobra, Russell's Viper and Saw-scaled Viper). May be it is the first time for most of us to see a snake making noise. Also, many of us would have seen the venom extraction on TVs, but watching them at real is awesome. This kept us wondering about the guts the Irulas have to extract the venom from the snakes! There was a 5 inch snake which we mistook for a baby snake, but later learnt that it was an adult Saw Scaled Viper and we were told that our death bells will ring after 2-3 hours in case of a bite!

Myths about the Cobras were dispelled such as: they don't eat egg or milk but only small animals. They bite as the last resort to protect themselves and try to escape if threatened. We were advised never to get panic in a case of snake bite and try to be CALM as much as possible. It is because panicking increases the blood pressure, which will help the venom to get circulated to all parts of your body. So always keep in mind.... be CALM when a snake bites.. Easier said than done!. Some snake bite need to be attended for medical care within 4 – 8 hrs but panicking will give you half the time. Ha! It was a real educative session!

CTC members caught baby croc with their hands for a photos pose. Crocs are totally cool creatures and their scales are soft and it seems as if holding a plastic toy. A small crocodile was our specimen to see it up close and hold it. Some 8-10 brave CTCians achieved this feat of holding it. All is fine until the baby fella wriggles which means we have to switch hands!

Crocodile Bank is a must visit place. They have hundreds of crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles which just seem to lie idle all day until its food or mating time!
We are done with our theory for now and headed for the practical session.

Beach cleaning and Casuarinas mapping activities

After Soham’s brief lecture about the Dos and Don’ts while cleaning, we set off south of the sea shore behind the crocodile bank to clear the garbage and plastics. A few of the CTC members joined in turns with Soham and Ganesh to map the Casuarinas plantations with a GPS. We mapped the clusters using 'polygon' feature and smaller plantations with 'waypoints'. We were told that the waypoints were marked and later would be transferred to PC to facilitate further research

We were totally surprised to find the scraps that we wouldn't have imagined to find in a beach. We mean that this is a lonely beach without a soul at sight, of course expect for the CTC and MCBT members. Some samples: Ariel washing power cover, kitchen spatula, a women's footwear, tooth brush, Jet Airways' security tag besides the usual suspects of plastics, water bottles, liquor bottles, chocolate wrappers and cigarette packet. May be a lesson for us for a proper disposal of plastics?

We filled up nearly 30 bags of garbage. This is just for 1.5 km stretch; maybe we would need 2-3 trucks to pick the garbage if it is on Marina and Elliot's beach! As it got dark, we stopped the cleaning and took a break to share the refreshments that we got with us, and played in the beach for while before taking the group photo

The entire 1.5 Km walk was total fun, though the job was bit monotonous in picking the rags, but we realized that we were creating a safe nesting ground for the Ridleys there. We took loads of photos with "sovereigns" skeletons of animals, shells, and other interesting objects, fought for cleaning space ("This is our area. Only we'll pick rags here. Keep off!"), exchanged reviews about the recently released movies: 'Naan Kadavul' and 'Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu', Jobin gave a crash course on photography, and made new friends. The walk was punctuated by beautiful sights on both sides. On our right, the sun was setting and when it got dark, the full moon's light was bathing the sea. Perhaps the most beautiful, romantic sight! A sight to behold!

On the way back, few of the CTCians had a chance to see the glowing crocodile's eyes in the dark, yet some missed it. Those who followed Parmod made it, but the ones who accompanied Soham missed it. It was a totally rocking afternoon-evening-night! A big thanks to Pramod, MCBT and CTC for this wonderful trip.
In nutshell, we carried the legacy of CTC in not polluting the environment to a step further. In every trek, CTC members have always ensured that we don’t strew the plastic bags in the forests. Now, we have gone a step further to clean up the mess on the shores done by our own species (Humans) to save the Ridleys. CTC rocks!!!!

Write up: Ashwin and Vijayanandraj

Organized by: Pramod

Image Galleries:
reddy, bhargavi, jobin



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