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Morning walkers at Versova Beach in Mumbai were in for a sweet surprise this week, as more than 80 hatchlings of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles made their way into the Arabian Sea for the first time in more than 20 years.
While a number of beaches in Mumbai were once home to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, nesting activity in beaches here had almost come to a standstill owing to extreme levels of pollution and garbage dumping. However, the situation at Versova Beach has taken a turn for the better in recent years, thanks to it being the focus of one of the largest volunteer beach clean-up efforts in the world. Led by the now famous environmentalist and long-time Versova resident Afroz Shah, a group of volunteers called the Versova Residents Volunteers’ team cleared more than 13 million kg of garbage from the beach, all in a time span of fewer than 126 weeks. While their efforts garnered nation-wide attention for making Versova Beach clean again, the clean-up has also been attributed as a possible reason for the return of the sea turtles to the beach.
The Olive Ridleys, which are one of the smallest and most abundant species of sea turtles, are known to nest annually in several parts of India’s eastern coast, particularly in the beaches of Odisha and Tamil Nadu. However, the commercialisation of beaches coupled with pollution and garbage dumping has caused a huge threat to the Olive Ridley population in the region, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing Olive Ridleys as a ‘Threatened’ species. The return of the turtles to Versova Beach has given hope to coastal conservation efforts in Mumbai, with officials keeping a close watch on other beaches in the region for nesting activity.
Speaking to the news agency PTI, Mumbai Region’s Principal Conservator of Forests, N Vasudevan, explained that Olive Ridleys only nest in beaches which they feel are safe and secure. While Olive Ridleys aren’t new to Maharashtra, nesting activity in the state is extremely sporadic and in recent years has only been witnessed in places such as Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Palghar, which are far more remote and secluded than the beaches of Mumbai.
However, while garbage dumping and human activity may have kept the turtles away for all these years, they still face a grave threat in Mumbai’s beaches. Cities such as Chennai and Pondicherry, which boast robust nesting activity, have an existing conservation network and regularly conduct ‘Turtle Walks’ where volunteers safely guide the hatchlings to the sea. Mumbai, on the other hand, has no such setup. Although it remains to be seen whether the nesting activity at Versova beach is a one-off event, Mumbai’s turtles would need the help of volunteers to guide them to safety.