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Turtle Nesting : A once-in-a-lifetime experience

With so many uninhabited, untouched and isolated islands, a long coast line, and wide non-commercialized beaches, Andaman and Nicobar islands can boast of supporting a huge population of turtles.

The four species found here are the Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Green Sea and Hawksbill turtles. Records and surveys show that the Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles’ population in Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the largest in India. Green Sea turtle is the most extensive species in both Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Green Sea turtles have 83 nesting beaches in Andaman whereas Olive Ridley turtles have 12 nesting sites, all on the east coast of Andaman. Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles prefer to nest on wide beaches and sand bars, with not as many nesting beaches.

It’s said that ideally, turtles choose beaches with gentle slopes and calm waters for nesting. But this is an ambiguous observation; one may argue that not all such beaches are favoured for nesting. The truth is, there are multiple factors that decide whether the beach in consideration is ideal for the turtles or not. Quite a few times, turtles in very few numbers have been found nesting on beaches not normally favoured, too.

Apart from the turtles, turtle nesting grounds also constantly face danger from sand mining, predators of eggs and hatchlings, indigenous people who enjoy turtle meat and the tourism related activities. The worst danger is from the feral dogs that are many in number and voracious eaters. To tackle the issue of dwindling numbers of turtles, the government started a conservation project in 1978.

Under the program, 94 areas in Andaman and Nicobar islands were turned into turtle nesting sanctuaries and 30 beaches as confirmed nesting sites. The forest department came out with strict guidelines which are to be followed, and has a protection force monitoring and guarding the critical areas during the peak seasons of November to March.

Turtle nesting takes place mainly at Kalipur and Ramnagar beach at Diglipur Town in North Andaman, and Karmatang beach in Mayabunder. Kalipur beach, North Andaman is the only beach in the world that has the distinction of being the nesting ground for all 4 species of turtles.

A few other beaches like Amkunj, Cuthbert Bay and Dhaninallah beaches in Middle Andaman have also been known to be chosen turtle nesting sites. Kalipur. Some freak incidents have seen turtles nesting on Corbyn’s Cove as well, but this is not likely to be a regular event.

Turtle nesting takes place from December to February. Once the eggs are laid, the officials gently pick them up and bury them in sand in a protected enclosure. Once the eggs hatch, the young hatchlings are gently picked up and either put back into the sea or close to the water’s edge. It takes about 45 days for the eggs to hatch. Visitors are not allowed to play with the hatchlings or the eggs; and even just a visit to witness this spectacular event, permission needs to be granted by the Range Officer.

Most of the turtle nesting beaches have boards outside with information regarding the species, statistics and the distinguishing features of the turtles. The enclosures are built away from the water with high walls and gates to keep out the dogs. The eggs, thousands or so in number are covered by sand and when they hatch, the beach looks like it’s got hundreds of bugs scurrying to the water. Those who are lucky enough to witness this on a full moon night say it is an unforgettable experience.

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