Posted by: sstcnchennai | Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SSTCN: 25 YEARS OF CONSERVATION by V. ARUN

Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network, commonly known as SSTCN, has completed its 25th consecutive year as a voluntary organisation. We have been working on the beaches of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India since 1988. Olive ridley turtles nest in this region between January and April. We begin our walks each night around 1am, take a one hour break at 3am if we haven’t found a turtle or nest, and then continue monitoring the beach until at least 5am.
Since 2009, we have covered two stretches of beach, north (6km long) and south (8km long) of the Adyar River. The beaches north and south of the Adyar River have very different dynamics. Nesting on the southern beach begins and ends early in the season, while the opposite pattern is observed on the northern beach as nesting begins later and more slowly but lasts for longer.
In 2013, the southern beach yielded 120 nests with the last nest found on 10th April; the northern stretch yielded 165 nests with the last nest found on 1st May. Often there were 8-10 nests laid per night on the northern beach and none on the south. SSTCN volunteers are limited to doing walks involving public participants on the southern beach only, due to safety, police permission, and transport availability. After finishing the nightly public walks, some volunteers go to the northern beach to assist the volunteers with the nesting turtles.
This year has been very special. We collected the greatest number of nests (n=285), nearly 40% more than our previous record, and subsequently released the largest number of hatchlings (n=23,000), 50% more than previously produced in our hatcheries. It is as though the turtles wanted to celebrate our 25 years with us.
SSTCN Hatcheries
As we work within city limits, there are bright lights along entire beaches which disorient the hatchlings, intense usage of the beach by the city dwellers, and poaching of turtle eggs. Until 10 years ago, there were many stretches of beaches which were quite dark, and we could leave nests in their original location after concealing the turtle tracks. Once concealed from poachers, the eggs were quite safe. But in recent years the entire stretch of beach has become brightly lit with the construction of buildings, resorts, clubs, most of them in violation of existing laws such as the coastal management zone laws. We therefore relocate every turtle nest that we find. Our hatcheries are bamboo-fenced sections of the beach, located about 15-20m from the high tide line. We change the location of the hatchery every year, and move it at least 100m from the previous location to ensure that there are no pathogens or parasites from the previous year’s eggs. SSTCN re-uses the same fencing for at least 5 years, with minor repairs between seasons. Once the sand temperature increases in summer, around mid-March, we cover the entire hatchery with jute cloth to prevent the nests from over-heating. Watchmen from the fishing community protect the nests in the hatchery. Hatchlings are released at the time they emerge; when hatchlings are released at night, our volunteers need to guide the hatchlings into the sea with powerful torches to reduce distraction by the city lights.
SSTCN Volunteers
We are lucky to have many inspired and committed volunteers. After a full day of college studies or other work, they always are ready for yet another night of work on the beach. Nishanth, a final year engineering student who wants to pursue wildlife conservation, was personally involved in collecting 72 nests this year. His class mate Robin walked 22 nights without a break. Raghuraman, a young auditor, who has been with us for 7 years, walked through the season and took charge of the Marina Beach hatchery. Shravan, a budding cricketer, who has been with us for 8 years now, took charge of the Besant Nagar hatchery and was there every evening throughout the season. If not for the dedication of several such volunteers, we would never be able to achieve our goals.
Involving Local Fisher folk
We have always explained during our education programmes and turtle-walks that small scale fishermen are not threats to turtles, but trawlers can cause mortality if turtles become entangled in nets. Many local fishermen help us during the turtle nesting season. For example, a fisherman in Marina conceals turtle tracks and marks the nest site. When SSTCN volunteers reach his area at 3-4am they call him and he indicates if there is a nest to find and describes the location(s). If too many people are present when he discovers a turtle nest, he relocates it to a site near his boat to prevent the eggs from being poached.
Disastrous Start to 2013
This year began on an ominous note. Even before the nesting season began, we heard stories and witnessed dead turtles washing ashore. Sadly, this is always the first indication that nesting turtles have begun to arrive on our coast. But the number of dead turtles kept increasing this year and by the third week of January we had already counted more than 30 dead turtles, more dead turtles than nests. Our public walks were becoming difficult as we tried to explain to a curious public why so many turtles had died. We temporarily called off the public walks for the first time in our history. We ensured that the problem was publicised in all the press, and then went on to petition the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to investigate the mortalities. The Forest Department supported our call for action.
Sudden Turn Around
It was the first of February; we had cancelled the public walk that night but a group of engineering students were determined to come on the walk and watched as we found 10 nests on the southern beach and three on the northern beach. We all felt a huge sense of relief. After that night, the number of nesting turtles began to increase rapidly and we soon experienced nights with more than 10 nests laid. There were still dead turtles washing ashore, but these numbers were slowly beginning to reduce. We kept a record of the number of dead turtles, and all volunteers carried a small tube of paint to mark the dead turtles and ensure that we did not count the same ones again.
Formation of Sand Walls
A phenomenon we have noticed in the last 3 years is the formation of sand walls by tidal action. These walls can be as low as 1 foot or as high as 5 feet. Some turtles unsuccessfully attempted to climb the wall, then nested at its base below the high tide line. These walls were much more pronounced in the southern beach than in the northern stretch; from January till March 2013, the southern beach had sand walls that prevented turtle nesting along 50% of its length. A few nests that were missed when laid were found after collapse of the sea wall; the nests were relocated and demonstrated good hatching success.
Other Finds
We often find marine life such as eels, puffer fish, dolphins, and sea snakes, which are washed ashore after drowning in nets or due to injuries. We once found a 30 foot long baleen whale carcass. The notable find of 2013 was a 7.5 foot long Risso’s dolphin.
Future of SSTCN
We intend to remain a small group and not grow too large. Our unique feature has been that we are a voluntary organisation which functions without funding from funding agencies or corporations. We strongly believe that it is important for concerned citizens to participate in conservation and education work in their own surroundings, and encourage the local community to participate when possible. We would like to focus not just on turtles, but on the state of the entire marine ecosystem. We are working with sea turtles because they happen to nest on our shores, but while interacting with students or participants in the walks we stress the importance of a sustainable lifestyle and an urgent need to reconsider the destructive development path that the world is following. We are hopeful that small organisations like ours will lead to a change in community perceptions and actions.

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Students’ Symposium 2012

SSTCN in collaboration with Indo-German centre for Sustainability, IIT Madras conducted a two day symposium on September 28th and 29th to celebrate 25 years of conservation work by SSTCN. The upcoming season will be the 25th year.
The symposium was targeted towards college students in and around Chennai. Participation was on a voluntary basis by students interested in nature. About 80 students from around 20 colleges attended the symposium over two days.
First day, 28th September
We started the day with presentations by students themselves on the topic of marine conservation. The students were briefed about this earlier. The session was for two hours and was moderated by Nityanand Jayaraman, a freelance activist and environmental journalist and teacher at the Asian college of Journalism. After listening to and watching many student presentations he gave critical feed back to them. He also explained how every choice we make in life is a political one, whether made consciously or not. He encouraged students to be aware of developments and make informed choices in their lives.
The second session of the morning was by Dr.Jayakumar of the Indo-German centre on the status of water on the coastal areas of Chennai. He had conducted this study as part of his doctoral thesis and gave valuable information on the availability of fresh water and the reason for its deterioration in various places.
This was followed by a presentation by Akila who made a presentation of Sea turtles of the world, their distribution, their roles in marine ecosystems, their current status etc and many interesting vignettes about Sea turtles.
The last presentation of the morning was by Arun who gave a quick run through of SSTCN’s work and a brief over view of the last 24 years.
We had organised a very different lunch for both the days – a full organic millet lunch, with all dishes being prepared with various millets. It was a unique experience for the students who after some initial reluctance enjoyed the meals very much and understood the ecological and nutritional importance of millets.
The main attraction of the day was the afternoon session conducted by Shekar Dattatri, the celebrated wild film maker and activist. He screened his famous “Ridley’s last stand” and followed it up with a passionate interaction session with students. In the process he shared many interesting facts about the early days of turtle conservation in Chennai which he was involved in since school days. It was very inspiring for the students to listen to a man who had dedicated his life to conserving nature from the time he was a small child. He made a very passionate plea to all to do whatever they can to save nature.
We ended the day with lime juice and peanut balls.

Second day, 29th September.
We began the day with a presentation of Marine Mammals of India by Dr.Kumaran Sathasivam. This is a topic on which there isn’t much knowledge and information. He enlightened us all on the various species found in Indian waters and also about other life forms found on shore and just off shore.
This was followed by a very lively session by photographers and bird watchers, Praveen and Murugan. They made a presentation of birds found on our coastal waters and on shores. They shared their experiences of going on boats looking for birds and it was very interesting and funny. The presentation was followed by a quiz which everyone enjoyed very much.
The third session of the morning was by Dr.Kartik Shanker, one of the founders of SSTCN who has been involved with us right through. He was also the president of the International Sea Turtle society. He told us the amazing story of sea turtle conservation in India with many fascinating never heard before stories of pioneers like Satish Bhaskar, Vijaya, Romulus Whitaker, C.S.Karr etc.
The next session was by Mr.Aurofilio from Citizens Action Network, Pondicherry who made a masterly presentation on shore formation and the impact of Sea walls. Every one present were fascinated and intrigued to hear so much new information about beaches which they had never heard of before.
After the lunch break we had Adhith Swaminathan present his tryst with turtles. Adhith has been involved with sea turtles from the time he was 11 years old. He has stayed involved with turtles and this has taken him to England to do a masters degree in marine conservation, to Costa Rica, Sri lanka, Orissa and Andaman to carry out conservation work. He shared this journey with us, with particular focus on his stay in an uninhabited Andaman island for the past few years. It was very inspiring for youngsters to listen to one who is barely older than themselves and yet has contributed so much already.
This was followed by a humorous presentation by our young volunteers on their experiences turtle walking in Marina.
The last session was an interaction among students themselves in groups on pre prepared case studies on a range of contemporary topics followed by a presentation by a representative from each group.
The last session was the valedictory with certificates given to all participants.
The symposium was a grand success and was made possible firstly by the generous collaboration of the Indo-German centre and by the hard work put in by the volunteers of SSTCN and IIT. A special thanks to Dr.Milind Brahme, professor at IIT, Rihan Najib, Ashwin, Ashish, Rathnavel, Nishanth, Aravind, Karthikeyan, Rakesh, Zainab, Maya, Vishnu, Shravan, Kartik, Prem and the others who helped.

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Monday, June 18, 2012

End of season report – 2012

SSTCN – Turtle season 2012

SSTCN’s turtle season of 2012 started with a very unusual problem – there was just no space on the beach near the Adyar estuary to put up the hatchery! The entire beach above the high tide line was covered in dense ipomoea plants with deep and extensive roots. Our team scouted the area around the estuary and decided on a spot and hired two men to clear the ipomoea. But at the end of two days of hard work, we realised we needed help. We had to then approach the corporation and get their permission to hire a JCB and clear a small patch of beach area off ipomoea! Only then we could set up the hatchery.

Things didn’t exactly look up after that! The first nest of the season was found only on the 10th of January, the second after a gap of another week and so on. We had only nine nests in January while in the 2011 season we had three times that number in January alone! The only thing to rejoice about was the absence of too many dead turtles unlike previous years.

Several theories were proposed – the Thane cyclone was one while others said it was because of sun storms that interfered with the earth’s magnetic field on which turtles rely to navigate around the globe. Whatever the reason, the low nesting continued into February which is usually our peak nesting period every season. While we had 56 nests in the Besant Nagar area in 2011, we had only 27 nests in February this year. March had only 8 nests as against 16 last year. While we had 99 nests last year, we had just 44 this season.

The Marina side though kept us from completely losing heart. January yielded 15 nests which was better than the southern side of the Adyar estuary and better than last season where we barely found any nests in January. Nesting picked up in February with 30 nests as opposed to 41 in 2011. March also was comparable with another 28 nests. Last season we had 43 nests in March on the Marina side. The total number this season in Marina was 76 which was only a little less than the 85 we found in the 2011 season.

Another challenge we faced this year was an invasion by ants in some of the Marina nests. Even with liberal use of neem cake, our volunteers had to be on guard round the clock in order to ensure we didn’t lose hatchlings to these carnivorous blind ants.

What was remarkable this season was the high percentage of hatching success in both the hatcheries and particularly in the Marina side where in spite of the ant invasion, 80% of the eggs hatched successfully. The Besant Nagar side was not too far behind with about 75% success.

Although the season was disappointing and discouraging to start with, the fact that we could still manage to release 10,367 hatchlings was a big shot in the arm for our volunteers.

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Victory for Volunteerism! V. Arun

The turtle season of 2010-2011 was one of the most extraordinary in recent years. It was always believed that olive ridley nesting did not happen on the Marina stretch because of anthropogenic pressures on that beach. But sometimes people would spot nesting turtles or nests and would bring us the eggs to relocate in our hatchery. So we made a decision to undertake patrolling of the Marina as well.

As our responsibility increased to include two stretches both covering over 7 Kms each, we tried to employ people as we were afraid the load of covering both stretches would be too much for our volunteers.

Although we tried for over a month, we were unable to get anyone responsible or reliable. As a result the job had to be undertaken wholly by volunteers.

It was a very successful nesting season with 85 nests relocated into the Besant Nagar hatchery and 80 nests into the Marina hatchery. Intense patrolling by the volunteers ensured that nests were not left undetected on the beach as this would surely mean disorientation for the emerging hatchlings due to lights, or risk of them being caught by dogs or crabs.

This involved monitoring the two hatcheries through the day as well as late nights and early mornings. We managed to release a total of 14, 238 hatchlings which is the highest number in many years.

Students from schools, and colleges as well as families, joined our walks every weekend. In the evenings, children too young to join night walks came regularly to the hatchery and participated with great excitement in the hatchling release.

Overall it was an extremely successful season and we felt all the hard work and enthusiasm that went in, really paid off.

Read all about it and more in this article:

http://iotn.org/iotn14_8.html

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Small Step in the Right Direction

MAST LIGHTS BEING SWITCHED OFF DURING TURTLE HATCHLING SEASON!

Government orders mast lights to be switched off!

For more information visit:

http://iotn.org/iotn14_6.html

 

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SSTCN volunteers make giant sand turtle on the beach

sstcn for cutting down carbon emissions

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Turtles and Casuarina – Sanctuary Asia Oct 2008 issue

The April 2008 issue of Sanctuary Asia carried an article on how World-Bank assisted Casuarina shelterbelts along the coast of Tamil Nadu had been raised right up to the high tide line, eliminating sea turtle nesting habitats.

The follow up action taken by the Government was then outlined in Sanctuary Asia’s October 2008 issue. The article can be accessed using the following link.

http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1338:turtles-and-casuarina-&catid=132:campaigns-archive

To view the April 2008 article, the following link can be used.

http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=491:world-bank-vs-sea-turtles-trauma-in-tamil-nadu&catid=113:campaigns

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NDTV Coverage of Casuarina on Turtle-Nesting Beaches

Sam Daniel of NDTV spoke to renowned filmmaker Shekar Dattatri and SSTCN coordinator V. Arun about the impact of extensive casuarina plantations on our Tamil Nadu beaches, where turtles have been nesting for thousands of years. The aired segment can be viewed from the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjyM9lAwmhU

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Video of Hatchlings being released

Share our excitement at releasing the first set of hatchlings from our hatchery! This video was taken by Siddharth, and can be viewed from the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCzFGtYbm9U

Posted by: sstcnchennai | Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Satan, Sin, Inji and the turtle walkers

As we approached the Valmiki Nagar stretch of beach, we peered towards the buildings anxiously, looking for our friends. We had already collected eggs from two turtle nests, and had more than 300 eggs between the two of us. It was 1 in the morning, and we were tired and sleepy but all of this vanished and our hearts filled with joy and affection as we saw them running towards us.

Satan and Sin, two jet black dogs with yellow eyes, fat and jolly, full of energy, meet us turtle walkers on most nights and walk with us till the hatchery. In a world of relationships based on give and take, this beautiful friendship is based on nothing material. They expect nothing from us, and most of the time we have nothing to give, except some warm hugs and of course, our company. And what’s most amazing, is that we aren’t the same people walking everyday. Almost everyday, a different pair of SSTCN members walks. Satan and Sin bear the same good cheer, and it is beautifully unconditional.

They often come by themselves and and sometimes bring other friends along. They play the entire way, often taking quick baths in the sea. These must be the cleanest dogs, with a bath every hour! Incidentally, they never harm the turtles, or the turtle eggs. They sleep with us in the hatchery and walk with us up till the bus stop. After putting us into the bus, they walk back to their daytime area.

Those of you who understand dogs will understand that by walking 5 kilometres with us, they cross hundreds of other dog territories, but our friends have never confronted any other dogs, and whenever confronted, have always maintained a dignified prescence.

This brings us to Inji, our former president, as we’d like to think of him. Inji used to walk with us everyday, unfailingly, from Besant Nagar to Neelankarai. We named him after Niranjan, a passionate turtle walker who died in the Himalayas. Inji walked with us from January to March, and then as the turtle nesting season drew to a close and it was time for us to go directly to the hatchery to release hatchlings, he would walk alone all the way. That was truly fascinating for a lone dog to do; walk all the way from Besant Nagar to Neelankarai, crossing all the kuppams (fishing villages) with their territorial dogs.

Then, by mid-April, Inji decided that he would shift base, and moved to the hatchery. This brought about a complete change in his character. He was, till then, a pig-nosed, dreamy, friendly dog but once he found a home, he turned territorial and would guard it fiercely. We changed his name to Inji Pratap Singh and as his power and domination grew, Thakur Inji Pratap Singh!

Unfortunately, the season got over and it was time to pull down the hatchery. After that, Inji became really upset and bad tempered, and on one occasion bit a boy from the kuppam who teased him. We paid for the boy’s treatment, but from that day on, our friend was a marked dog. We tried bringing him to Besant Nagar with us, but he would always run back. We made arrangements for him to be fed, and often went to check up on him, but one day he just disappeared. In a world of spite, one can definitely imagine what must have happened. After this, we posthumously made Inji the President of SSTCN.

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