Turtle Walks in Chennai

It was one of my friends who told me about “Turtle Walks” a wonderful initiative that’s been happening on the coast of Chennai by a handful of volunteers.. The very idea of walking the entire night on the beach excited me. And on a Friday night around 9:30, myself along with my friend Samuel Eddy reached Elliot’s beach. Parked our vehicle, purchased some essentials like biscuits and water, to keep ourselves busy throughout the night. There was already a group waiting at the Elliot’s beach, waiting for their friends. We joined the group and left to Neelankarai, that starting point for Turtle Walk.

By the time we reached Neelankarai beach It was 11:30 P.M. There was already a huge group of some 30 odd people listening carefully to a small introductory talk by Arun, one of the volunteers of Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN). Arun was talking about various species of Turtles, about Olive Ridley turtles, the threats faced by these wonderful creatures, various conservation efforts taken up by various groups in different coastal areas of India. The turtle walks are one such effort to increase the chances of survival of the Olive Ridley sea turtle.

The Turtle walks route is a 10 km stretch starting from Neelankarai beach to Elliot’s beach. Now in order to increase the awareness of conservation of Olive Ridley turtles, Public are also taken along for the walk on Fridays and Saturdays. Our batch had almost 50, of all ages, from kids to retired people. 

By around 12:15 A.M, we started off from Neelankarai beach. We had hardly walked for 10 minutes; we came across a dead Turtle. One of the volunteers told us that most of the turtles get stuck in the fishing nets and die. We continued the hunt for the nests and almost 20 minutes later found the Turtle trail, the path taken by turtles to come to the shore and lay eggs.

With the help of steel rod, the volunteers started searching for the exact position of the nest. With the rod they dig up the places and the soil above the nest would be loose when compared to other areas. These volunteers are trained and they make sure that no damage is done to any of the eggs. After few minutes of the searching they found the first nest.

The Turtle nest is in the shape of a pot — a narrow neck and a wider chamber below, almost 2 ft in depth. The volunteers, with utmost care removed the soil above the nest and start collecting the eggs.

By around 1:30 A.M, collected almost 150 Turtle eggs from the first nest, entire gang, especially the kids, were so excited. Everyone was busy to have a look at the eggs, to touch it and feel it. Others were eager to have a look at the nest. As I was walking insearch of more nests, I realized to my horror the amount of filth and garbage we humans have dumped along our beautiful beaches. On one side we saw so many dead fishes and all sorts of garbage, the beach side was bubbling with life as crab in various sizes were running here and there.

Around 2A.M we came across the second nest. Eggs were carefully taken out, the nest was measured and then covered up.. Once all the eggs are taken to the hatchery, volunteers dig up a nest that is more or less the same in dimensions as the original nest and carefully puts all the eggs inside. Second nest had around 45 eggs. We continued The Turtle walk. On the way, around 3A.M, we met some fishermen. They were getting ready to go for the catch, keeping huge water cans in the catamarans and they would be back by 8A.M, hopefully with a great catch.

By 4:40 A.M ‘The Turtle walk’ concluded at Elliot’s beach. The volunteers collected almost 400 eggs from 5 nests. We were almost exhausted but happy and thrilled to be part of this wonderful initiative. During the walk, I made acquaintance with so many people, participated in the collection of Turtle eggs and most important walked almost 10 kilometers, first time in my life. I would say a night well spent.