Turtle watching in Anjarle

Kasturi Gadge | Updated on October 11, 2019 Published on October 11, 2019

Small world: The beaches of countries that experience tropical climates usually attract this rare breed of ectotherms   -  KASTURI GADGE

The endangered olive ridley turtle is the star of a deserted beach in Maharashtra, where villagers play an active role in the conservation of the species

It is said that watching a new life arrive on earth is the most moving experience ever. I never thought I would say this until I saw a shiny, palm-sized olive ridley turtle crack open out of an egg on a deserted beach in Anjarle in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district.

Watching these turtles was on my checklist for long. But it was only recently that the plan materialised after I found out about the picturesque village of Anjarle, which had recently started a conservation site on its beach.

“Anjarle is a beautiful place otherwise, too. But to see the turtles, the best time is when the eggs in the nests hatch, that is between March and May. On the west coast, that is the Konkan Coast, olive ridleys nest sporadically,” Jayesh Paranjpe of The Western Routes, a Pune-based travel company, says.

It is said that a female olive ridley returns to the same beach where she was born to lay her eggs, and to do that she sometimes swims for thousands of miles. She lays her eggs in a pit on the beach, covers them with sand, and returns to the sea. The eggs hatch after 50-60 days.

Villagers in Anjarle and Velas, a more famous beach and turtle site nearby, take it upon themselves to protect these tiny creatures. A person is given the duty to patrol the beach and look for nests every day during the season. “A female turtle lays 100-150 eggs in a night under the sand, and covers them with sand and leaves. The eggs hatch on their own. But the locals know how to find the nests as there is a mound where the nest is covered,” Paranjpe explains. Once a nest is spotted, its depth is measured and the eggs are moved to a barricaded nesting site on the beach itself, where they are transferred to a similar sized nest, he says.

This is done to protect the eggs from predators, including humans, dogs and crows. The olive ridleys have been classified as an endangered species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Moving them to nests further away from the beach helps the eggs hatch under a protected environment — here the hatchlings are in no danger of getting entangled in fishing nets or being captured for sale in the meat market.

The beaches of countries that experience tropical climates usually attract this rare breed of ectotherms. On the west coast, the last time these turtles made headlines was in March 2018, when they returned to Mumbai’s Versova Beach after a gap of 20 years. The beaches of Odisha, on the east coast, see a large number of turtle nests. While those are mass nesting sites, the turtles also lay eggs in the lesser-known beaches of Dapoli in Konkan Maharashtra. The most popular in Maharashtra is the Velas Beach, which is visited by thousands of tourists hoping to catch a sight of the tiny ones taking their first step towards the ocean.

At the protected nesting site in Anjarle, the nests are marked with the date on which they were found, and the estimated date of hatching. A person is assigned to check on the eggs every morning and evening to help them make their way to the ocean.

“When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings make their way to the sea. The large quantities of magnetite in their brains help them read the Earth’s magnetic field so that they can navigate back to the same shore to nest. It is estimated that approximately one turtle survives to adulthood for every 1,000 that enter the sea. What a fascinating species,” Paranjpe says.

The hatchlings start crawling towards the shore as if they already know their way back home. During my visit, I had to make multiple trips to the beach for a couple of days, waiting for the eggs to hatch. Finally, I spotted two tiny olive ridleys, and watched them as they flapped their fins to make their way into the ocean.

If you plan on making a trip to Anjarle, be warned that you might not find a luxurious stay close to the beach. For the last couple of years, however, the local people have started opening their homes to tourists. I stayed a few kilometres away at Country Brands Chaitraban Resort but if you want a bird’s-eye view of the beach, opt for the SaffronStays Villa 270°.

The people of Konkan will wow you with their hospitality. After the sighting, I took a stroll around the village, looking for a place to eat. There were no restaurants around, but a passer-by directed me to a place where the host cooks fresh food for tourists. For under ₹1,000, I had a memorable meal consisting of fresh bangda fry, surmai fry, prawn pulao and an endless supply of sol kadi, a coconut milk and kokum flavoured drink.

A great meal, and a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. What else could one hope for?

Kasturi Gadge is a Mumbai-based journalist

Travel log
  • Getting there

Anjarle is 233km from Mumbai by road and 200km from Pune. The best way to get to Anjarle is by car/taxi as it isn’t very well connected by public transport.

  • Stay

Chaitraban Resort, Dapoli (₹2,500 for a night); tel: 88066 96104

SaffronStays Villa 270° (starts at ₹5,000 for a night); saffronstays.com

  • When to go

The hatching season is between March and May.

  • BLink Tip

The hatching is a natural phenomenon, so ensure you keep a couple of days in hand to make multiple trips to the beach.

Don’t expect Goa-style beach shacks; instead, carry your supplies as the closest store could be an hour’s drive away.

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Published on October 11, 2019
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