CHAVAKKAD (THRISSUR DIST.), DEC. 12. A band of students from a local school have launched a campaign to stop the reported sale of the eggs of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles along the coast.
Under the banner of Haritha Sena, students of the Seethi Saheb Vocational Higher Secondary School in the coastal town of Edakkazhiyoor visit shops where the eggs, resembling ping pong balls, are said to be sold and distribute pamphlets demanding the conservation of sea turtles. Campaign rallies are being organised and anti-poaching banners are displayed.
``The sale of eggs is illegal as Olive Ridley turtles are in danger of extinction. They have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources,'' says N.J. James, science teacher at the school who guides the Haritha Sena and executive director of the Green Habitat set up by a group of environmentalists.
All sea turtles have been covered under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972, which calls for the protection of endangered species. Offenders are liable for imprisonment between one and three years or a fine of Rs. 3,000 or both.
``As far as we know, Olive Ridley turtles are not being hunted for meat in the Chavakkad-Ponnani belt. But the fishermen from Kanyakumari, whom we meet during the campaign, say that turtle meat is considered a delicacy in some parts of Tamil Nadu,'' says K. A. Nazar, a Class X student.
Olive Ridley turtles, each weighing between 35 kg and 45 kg, are spotted at Chavakkad during the nesting season between September and February. They dig pits, 45 cm deep, on sandy beaches and lay eggs at midnight. Each turtle lay between 60 and 100 eggs in one nest. It covers the eggs with sand before returning to sea. The incubation period is 55 days.
Sea turtles are known to migrate thousands of kilometres across oceans. Satellite telemetry is now being used to ascertain their migratory patterns and routes.
``An egg is sold for Rs. 5,'' says Mr. James. ``There is a lack of awareness among the local residents that the sale is illegal. Groups of egg-hunters are seen on the beaches at midnight.
The hunt is locally called `Mutta vetta'. The catch is equally divided among the members,'' he says.
P. P. Farzana, a Class IX student, says that the local residents believe that consumption of turtle eggs cures asthma.
``We told them that no research has proved so,'' says K. Sajeena, another member of the Haritha Sena.
The children say that eyebrows were raised when they initially visited the shops to protest against the sale. But it has not put them off. And they have no plan to retreat into their shell.