On June 10, Vaishali Chawhan, a wildlife activist, rescued an adult Olive Ridley Turtle from Usarni village in Palghar. This was the ninth turtle rescued in the last two weeks, she claimed.
Mumbai and the neighbouring areas are known to be habitats of sea turtles. However, the number of turtles that wash ashore with injuries is increasing every year, exponentially, experts say. “Last year around 25-30 turtles had been brought in to the injured sea turtle and wildlife treatment and transit centre in Dahanu. This year, we have had 11 so far, in just two months,” said Dhaval Kansara, wildlife warden of Dahanu.
The turtle rescued from Usarni was taken to Dahanu where it is currently undergoing rehabilitation. “This one had injuries to its flippers. It was mostly caused by a net and then it got infected,” Chawhan who works with Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare to rescue turtles, said.
According to consultant veterinarian Dr Dinesh Vinherkar, the number of turtles injured have grown every year for the last seven to eight years. “Between May 24 and June 11, we have had eleven turtles, out of which two died. Right now at the transit centre in Dahanu, we have nine turtles. Out of them, eight are Olive Ridleys and one is a sea green turtle. ,” he said.
All the nine turtles, Dr Vinherkar said, had similar injuries. “These are injuries caused when the turtles get entangled into what we call ghost nets that are left in the sea. These nets cause severe injuries to the most important organ of the turtles, their flippers,” he said. “The thin net strings act as tourniquets and cut through the skin, sometimes even damaging bones. Once the flipper is damaged, the turtle can’t move,” he explained.
Experts cannot ascertain the exact number of turtles that fall prey to the nets.
“Very few manage to make it to the shore. The animals that come out are either tossed out by a heavy current, or picked up by a fisherman. Some even manage to struggle their way through. One of our turtles has a cracked shell that probably happened while he was struggling,” Dr Vinherkar said.
Not just nets but even pollution affects these reptiles. “We have had cases of turtles wrapped in plastics while swimming getting washed ashore. Various types of waste thrown into the sea is harming our wildlife,” Chawhan said.
However, some activists believe that the increased number of rescues also means that awareness has grown. “Where I work with my team, the tribals and the locals used to eat turtle meat. Whenever a turtle would wash ashore, even alive, they used to kill it. Now, after spending years spreading awareness, they call us first. I see that as a great positive,” Chawhan explained.