For a long time, we wanted to witness the first journey of baby turtles to the sea after coming out of their eggs. We had read about a conservation program being done by Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, on the west coast of Maharashtra to protect the endangered species of sea turtles a few years ago, ever since then it was there on our list. Given the fact that it happens only once a year, for a very short time period made it very difficult to be able to make it. But when we did manage to get there, it turned out to be an unforgettable experience for us.
Owing to the heavy traffic on Mumbai-Goa highway, it took us more than 6 hours to reach the destination but we made it just in time for the evening slot. The Olive Ridley sea turtles are marked as endangered species, due to hunting of adults for leather & oil, poaching of eggs and eggs & babies falling prey to wild animals, birds. From last few years, a group of volunteers have taken responsibility to patrol the beach during the nesting period, shift the eggs to safe environment & protect the eggs till babies come out, which is contributing significantly to the increase in the quantity of these turtles. The volunteers shift the eggs to fenced areas making sure that the eggs are kept exactly the same way as they were laid in the original nest. They also take turns to sleep near the fenced area every night to make sure that the egg poachers and animals don't harm the eggs. Talking to some of them made us realise that if it wasn't for their relentless efforts, these turtles would have given up on the west coast long ago as their nesting habitat. They also showed us a film about the conservation programs they run for the turtles, vultures and other animals, birds adorning the wildlife of western ghats.
Watching the sole baby which came out during our visit, taking its first steps in this vast world was the lifetime experience. The volunteers carried it in a wicker basket to a spot around 20 feet near the sea shore. The area was cordoned off with ropes to avoid any human being entering it leaving the footsteps in the sand. It felt like marking a red carpet for the celebrity of the day. As the baby turtle started walking towards the sea, our hearts were filled with joy. From time to time, it stopped in its track, raised its tiny neck, sensed the wind, smell and probably few other things to detect the direction of the sea and corrected it's course accordingly. Seeing such a tiny creature use it's basic instincts so effectively was marvellous. We couldn't help but wonder at how treacherous this journey must be for them in the wild with birds hovering over to catch them and sometimes poachers stealing them for their personal greed. These animals are so sensitive that vibrations caused by footsteps on the beach can put off a female from nesting & laying eggs. Even the baby turtles can lose their track to the sea if they see flashlights of a camera or come across footsteps in the sand. But the fact which fascinated us most was that the baby turtle (if it is a female) remembers the geomagnetic field of the place it was born at and returns to the same beach 20 years later when it is ready to lay the eggs.
Just when the baby was about to reach the first wave of the ocean, I heard a mother telling her 6-7 years old, "Look at that baby turtle, it is managing on its own, without its mother anywhere nearby. You still need your mom for everything, even to feed you your meals". So true! Sometimes we look after our kids way too much, without letting them use their basic instincts and find their way. Off course leaving them to fend for themselves at very young age would be cruel, but sometimes we forget to sense the right time to let them struggle on their own.
Velas Turtle Festival Tips -1) You can witness this event in Anjarle & Velas, find out more on http://www.snmcpn.org/marine-turtles/turtle-festival
2) Usually, the event happens during February to April, but it is a good idea to find out the dates beforehand from their website
3) Hatching of eggs depends on a lot of factors including moon, weather, humidity, nesting dates etc. Better call Mohan Upadhye - 02350 220304 / 8983767388 / 8975622778 to check the probability of getting to see baby turtles to avoid disappointment. Yet you may or may not get to witness it, there is no guarantee. Nobody can predict it 100% accurately.
4) The village is small and gets crowded even with ample amount of home stay options. Some families had just turned up without any prior booking of the stay, as a result of which they had to check out all the places there and ultimately adjust in the common area of the home stay providers. So it will be a better idea to book your stay in advance.
5) The home stay options are very basic, a room with attached toilet bathroom or a dormitory with a common toilet bathroom. The room includes bed, mattress and a mirror, no other facilities or toiletries are provided, so make sure you carry yours. It also includes basic home cooked meals, so don't expect anything fancy or A la carte food.
6) The volunteers open the cover on nest twice a day - 7 a.m. & 5.30 p.m. To increase the chances of a sighting of the babies, try to include at least 2 timings in your itinerary, more the better.
7) The beach is approximately 15-20 minutes walk from the village and it gets hot by the time you return in the morning so make sure you carry enough protection from the sun in the form of sunglasses, sunscreen and sun coat (if necessary)
8) Don't miss the documentary they show every evening/morning (depending on availability). It puts many things into perspective including how we are contributing to damaging the wildlife by a simple act of throwing plastic, empty bottles, chips packets and other garbage in the sea (not only at this particular location but in general in any part of the sea worldwide).
9) Just outside the village boundary, we found a spot full of fireflies. All the fields, trees were so laden with them, that it gave a feeling of sparkling lights during Diwali or Christmas. But you will have to walk in the direction of the beach after it gets completely dark and stand silently to spot them initially.
10) Remember to carry a torch, don't rely solely upon mobile torch. As there may be a power outage at times, and if your mobile battery is drained then you may miss a lot of good opportunities for walks (especially to catch a glimpse of fireflies).
11) It is a quiet village, so respect it by keeping the noise levels down. In fact, I will recommend this place only if you are a true nature lover.
12) The village is also famous for the production of various spices. The place where we stayed (Mr Amol Soman - 220279/9403574183) boasts of plants and trees of various spices including Nutmeg, Mace, Cloves, Pepper, Cinnamon & bay leaf. The owner of the place has also created a small museum about life in Konkan, but we couldn't visit it due to time limitation. So don't miss this unique opportunity to see the spices in their natural setup.