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Flappers and the feet

Goa has proved to be a suitable home to many turtle species. Today on World Turtle Day, NT BUZZ finds out more about the sea and freshwater turtles found in Goa and how these reptile species are under constant threat

venita gomes

Turtles are considered to be one of the oldest reptile groups in the world. They play an important role in the ecosystem. The Olive Ridley Turtle is synonymous to Goa and is much famed. However, the Forest Department has also witnessed the Green Turtle species in the waters of Goa. On the other hand freshwater turtles found both on land and water are a common sight. Despite the Forest Department enforcing strict laws and rules they still continue being endangered in the state.

Sea water dwellers

The Olive Ridley Turtle is one of the most common visitors, who lives in the sea, but pays a visit to the shore when it has to lay eggs. “Goan beaches have been quite a favourite among the Olive Ridley Turtles. Earlier they would lay eggs on different beaches but due to the influx of tourists they moved to abandoned and secluded beaches where there is no much disturbance,” says deputy conservator of forest, Wildlife and Eco-tourism, North Goa, Vikas Desai.

Morjim, Agonda, and Galgibag are some of the few beaches which are still chosen as a nesting sites by these turtles.

In order to protect these eggs which are constantly under threat the Forest Department has started turtle hatcheries in Morjim and Galgibag. “When turtle lay eggs we shift them to a safe place where the eggs are well protected. Once the eggs are hatched we release them into the sea,” says Desai.

He also says that motorboats, fishing nets, and pollution are other factors that make survival hard for these turtles. “There have been instances when turtles were found dead either due to the movement of motor boats or because they got trapped in fishing nets. Many times plastic or other items are unintentionally consumed by the reptile which ends up choking them,” he says.

Desai also says that the carcasses of turtles which are found on the shores are taken for post-mortem after which they are able to identify the cause of death.

“There are times when we cannot come to know  the exact cause of death especially if they have died due to oil spill or consumption of other items from the sea,” he says.

This year, around 20 nests were seen both in North and South Goa.

Freshwater turtles

Commonly found in freshwater habitats like lakes, streams, and rivers, the freshwater turtles of Goa have been considered to be an integral part of the biodiversity. It is also said that without these turtles, aquatic ecosystems would progressively degrade and would undergo loss of biodiversity.

Director, Gaiamitra Collective Foundation and Consultation, Herpactive, Gowri Mallapur who has been researching about the freshwater turtles says that besides the Olive Ridley Turtle the Indian Black Turtle (Melanochelys Trijuga) and Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys Punctata) are two of the most commonly found freshwater turtle species in Goa.

And the turtles, she adds, play a vital role in the ecosystem.

“Freshwater turtles are known to be ecological engineers. They help in maintaining the ecological balance in the aquatic system and manage the plants and organic matter there. In forested areas they assist with seed dispersal while moving on the forest floor,” she says.

Though these species are important to our ecology they are constantly under serious threat due to man-made or other natural destructive activities.

Mallapur says that it is sad to see that turtles even today are targets of poachers who hunt them for commerical purposes .

 “All turtle species are threatened by habitat degradation by fragmentation of ecosystems and niches, poaching for food on commercial scales and also for the burgeoning pet trade. This is a sad affair,” she says.

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