On 22nd February 2018 morning, about 500 Sea Turtle Protection Force members of TREE Foundation, supporters, students and volunteers gathered together to pay homage to all the dead turtles that have stranded along the coast. A huge sand model of an Olive Ridley sea turtle was built at Neelankarai beach, close to where many dead turtles had stranded in previous years. The homage was to commemorate the 824 turtles that needlessly died due to trawl boats on 22nd February, 2014 at Pennar Estuary, Nellore where TREE Foundation is also involved in a community-based conservation program, jointly working with the Forest department. The service also acknowledged the 1000 turtles that died along the Vellar estuary in Cuddalore the March of the same year. The cause of death was inferred by the AD, Fisheries and the DFO of Nellore to be due to drowning in the 40 odd trawl boats with Tamil Nadu registrations that were fishing 2.5 kms from the shore near the estuary in violation of the Marine Fisheries Regulation Act. The trawl boats should only be fishing beyond 5 kms from shore in Tamil Nadu and 8 kms in Andhra Pradesh.
In addition to these deaths in 2014, only a few days ago, on 15th February, 2018, around 150 turtles were washed ashore on the same beach in Penna Estuary, Nellore. It seems that no lessons have yet been learned from the tragedy 2014. Major threats to sea turtles causing high mortality include trawl fishing boats, gill nets and nets set to catch ray fish and guitar fish. The Fisheries Department is the main state division with responsibility to ensure the regulations to protect sea turtles are enforced.
In memory of all the dead turtles and the turtles that have died during this turtle season (between Neelankarai and Alambarai), a number of well-wishers gathered together to pay homage to them. Dr. Supraja Dharini mentioned to all those present and some beach goers that while we remember all the dead turtles, thousands of people will be praying for the turtles this morning in schools, IT Companies, media houses and industries all over the world. All of TREE Foundation’s Sea Turtle Protection Force members working in sea turtle conservation along the Kanchipuram coast in Tamil Nadu, Sullurpeta, Nellore, Prakasam, Guntur, Krishna, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam coasts in Andhra Pradesh and Berhampur Coast in Odisha made sand models of sea turtles and paid their homage to the turtles along with friends and community members in their respective locations. Dr Supraja said, “We are witnessing the extinction of the local population right in front of our eyes within a span of just 10 years. We need to protect sea turtles right now, if we want to protect the oceans -our planets life support system. Only then can we protect ourselves.” T. A. Pugalarasan, senior Sea Turtle Protection Force member, said, “We only hope that more enforcement is in place to reduce the unnecessary deaths of sea turtles and hope more people know about the wonderful role that sea turtles play in the marine ecosystem.”Everyone who gathered together observed silence, said a small prayer for them and sent positive energy to all the turtles in the ocean.