The turtle which nests on the eastern coast of mainland India is the Olive Ridley [Lepidochelys Olivacea]. The name is derived from the olive green colour of the turtle’s shell while seen in water during the day. The Thamizh name of Panguni aamai refers to the fact that this creature comes to nest in the month of Panguni. The turtle nests mainly for three months– Jan, Feb and March, on the coast of Tamil Nadu.
There are seven species of marine turtles. The Olive Ridley is the smallest of the sea turtles measuring about two and a half feet in length and breadth. Like all other species of sea turtle, except the herbivorous Green Turtle, the Olive Ridley is omnivorous in diet.
Sea turtles are called Ancient Mariners as they travel the entire world except in cold waters. The turtles that nest in India have been found as far away as Australia. The Olive ridley comes to the Indian waters around September.The majority of them head to Orissa with sporadic low nesting happening all over the coast.
Male and female turtles travel together and after a mating period of two months or so the males return to deeper waters. The females stay on and after a gestation period of about a month, they start nesting in end December or early January.
Each turtle nests twice each year and sometimes even three times. Each nest can contain from 50 to up to 190 eggs but usually averages 100 eggs. Hatchlings emerge from about 45 to 60 days. 12 to 15 years later the hatchlings that make it to adulthood will return to the very beach where they were born to lay their eggs. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature inside the nest and can vary from nest to nest and even within the same nest.
The olive ridley is most noted for its massive nesting aggregations, known as arribadas, with literally thousands of females nesting in large simultaneous waves over small stretches of beach. In the Indian Ocean, Gahirmatha located in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, in Bihar, supports perhaps one of the largest nesting populations in the world with an average of 398,000 females nesting in a given year.
Photo Credits: Adhith Swaminathan