Researchers plan study on sea turtles to tackle rising deaths

May 29, 2018, 07:05 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

NGO, veterinarian submit proposal to state Mangrove Cell, detailing how to study the marine creatures' migration pattern and lives, in a bid to curb incidences of the aquatic animals getting washed on Maharashtra's shores

Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav

Next year, an interesting scientific study giving an insight into the life of marine turtles found on the west coast of Maharashtra will begin, if everything goes according to plan.

Researchers working in the field of marine conservation will team up with a Dahanu NGO as well as forest department's Mangrove Cell to carry out a telemetry study for observing the migration pattern of sea turtles. The turtles found on the west coast between Mumbai and Dahanu are olive ridley turtle, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle and green sea turtle.

The motivation
NGO Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association (WCAWA) along with veterinarian Dr Dinesh Vinherkar, who has been working in the field of turtle conservation, submitted a proposal - Marine Turtle Tagging Program: An Initiative Of Conservation Of Marine Turtles Of Dahanu, Maharashtra - to the Mangrove Cell a few days back.

Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of injured and dead marine creatures, including turtles, getting washed on the shore between Mumbai and Dahanu. The injured turtles are treated by Dr Vinherkar at the Injured Sea Turtle and Wildlife Treatment Centre run under the Dahanu Forest Division and supported by WCAWA.

Tracking the turtles
"Little is known about the sea turtles that get washed ashore. The satellite telemetry study, or the satellite tagging of turtles, will give us valuable information about the unknown lives of these magnificent creatures. If we get permissions, then, in the first phase, we will insert a microchip in the body of a turtle we find during rescue or injured.

The microchip won't give us real-time updates, but if the same turtle gets washed on some other beach, it can be identified based on the microchip. In phase II, we will undertake a pilot study, as part of which we will carry out satellite tagging; this will give us real-time updates about the creatures' migration pattern," said Dr Vinherkar.

How it will help
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Mangrove Cell N Vasudevan said, "We will examine the proposal submitted to us." The research will also help to study the movement of satellite-tagged turtles in offshore waters along the coast of Maharashtra in the Arabian Sea and beyond.

"It will also help us to determine various environmental parameters and possible impact of developmental activities, both in the marine and coastal nesting habitats of sea turtles along the coast," he added.

Previous studies
In India, the Wildlife Institute of India tagged around 1,700 olive ridley mating pairs in the offshore waters of Odisha. The programme also tagged more than 10,000 nesting females between 1997 and 1999 at Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya. Both males and females were recaptured within a season as well as between seasons. Olive ridley turtles that were tagged at one site were later found nesting at other sites, the distance between nesting sites varying from 35 to 320 km for individual turtles. There have been only 24 long-distance returns of tags from the 15,000 turtles tagged in Odisha. All have been from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Here, metal tagging has provided some evidence that turtles that nest in Odisha do migrate to the coastal waters of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. In some cases, tags have been retained for more than 20 years.

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