In November 1999, a group of high school science teachers in Guruvayur, Kerala, decided to come together to raise awareness on environment conservation among students and more importantly, local communities.
Their need to do so, arose from the fact that the nearby beach of Chavakkad was the nesting home for Olive Ridley turtles, an endangered species.
Christened ‘Habitat,’ the group started with four teachers, a photographer and a student, who would go on walks along the beach to safeguard the eggs laid by the nesting turtles.
“At that point, we didn’t have much scientific knowledge about the Olive Ridley turtles, other than the fact that they came to this beach every November to nest. But we knew that they are an endangered species, and we had to do something to save their eggs—from the local fishermen and even foxes who would prey on them,” says James NJ, one of the founding members of the group.
He further mentions that while school books spoke about extinct species like the Dodo, there was no information about how one could conserve the ones that were alive, but on the verge of extinction. And they wanted to change this.
“We started holding classes at schools and colleges in the region as well as sessions at various Grama Sabhas. We had even reached out to the local media. Understanding the gravity of the situation, people, including the local fishing communities slowly started joining us in our walks,” James remembers.
The group changed its name to ‘Green Habitat’ in 2002 as an independent and non-profit organisation.
The members began working with local bodies, clubs and self-government institutions like the Mullassery Block Panchayat, Pavaratty Grama Panchayat, Chavakkad municipality, Seethi Sahib VHS School, Edakkazhiyur, and the Open Scout Group of Enammakal.
“We were not a registered group yet back then, but soon we began to receive support from different quarters. The Bengaluru-based Dakshin Foundation was of major help. It was only after receiving reading materials as well as training from the organisation, did we understand the level of involvement that was required to safeguard the hatching process. Also, erosive striations made by the waves were hindering the nesting process, because of which the turtles were laying their eggs unprotected and quite close to the sea. A hatchery was the need of the hour,” explains James.
Finally, in 2006, the group constructed a hatchery along the Chavakkad beach.
“We became more vigilant during our walks because the turtles would come ashore towards the night, and we did not want to step on their nests. Now, after collecting the eggs, we bring them to the hatchery for incubation. Once they hatch, we then take them back to the sea and release them,” adds James, proudly.
In the last two years, James mentions that the arrival of turtles has somewhat been delayed.
“In 2018, the turtles came ashore only in December. I assume it was because of (Cyclone) Ockhi. But this year, the delay was even more prolonged. The turtles landed on the shore only by January, owing to the floods. But there has been a steady increase in numbers. While last year, we came across 14 nests, this year it has risen to 16 nests,” he adds.
These samaritans have set a remarkable benchmark for conservationists, and their work has been silently contributing to a rise in the numbers of the severely endangered turtle.
Thanks to their efforts, a total of 140 hatchlings got to see the light of the day, and with that, made it to the sea this year!
While Green Habitat receives some financial support from the social forestry department, it often becomes hard for the organisation when it comes to funds to buy general apparatus or even infrastructure.
“For example, night vision binoculars would help us to locate the nests, while blankets will protect the fishermen, who join us in our walks, from the cold,” mentions James.
The organisation is open to any form of support or contribution, preferably supplies like blankets or fencing. For more information, you can reach out to James at 8289880981.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)