During the months of December there is an ancient marine reptile that visits the Chennai coast to breed. This is the story of the marine reptile –the olive ridley ( Lepidochelys olivacea Escho.). The olive ridley sea turtle is a transoceanic migrant that travels long distances to breed in the Chennai coast. The olive ridley is the smallest of the world’s sea turtles. They are much larger than their terrestrial counter parts and can weigh close to 50 kilos. The presence of more than 5 or more scutes on the back scales in the back is a key to their identification. Turtles return back to their natal beaches that are the beach where they were born to breed using the ocean currents. The clutch size varies between 50-150 eggs. The eggs are like table tennis balls. The eggs are incubated by sun’s heat and hatch in a period of 40-50 days. What happens in Chennai could be called as dispersed nesting and in Gahirnatha and two other places in Orissa there is a rare event of Nature called `Arribada’. Arribada in Spanish means ‘arrival’ when 4 lakh turtles come en masse in a period of 2 weeks to lays eggs. This is a breathtaking spectacle for the professional and layman alike. The olive ridley is facing extinction in India due to various factors like pollution, accidental drowning of adults in trawler nets, poaching of adults and eggs for human consumption, loss of nesting habitat and sometimes mega development projects. Beach lighting and construction of concrete structures has considerably disturbed their habitat. Hatchery management that involves collection of nests and relocation in a hatchery has stabilized their population.
Photo source: Dr. J. Subramanean