The Photo Story: Tide of the turtles

With tiny flippers and clumsy steps, a hatchling instinctively makes its way toward the ocean
Photographer: Vipurva Parikh

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS: VIPURVA PARIKH

A few years ago, Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra, an NGO working towards wildlife conservation in Maharashtra, invited me to photograph turtle-nest hatchings in Mochemad, a small fishing village on the coast. Mochemad is a typical fishing village with a Ganpati temple at its centre, and sandy lanes all leading up to traditional homes. There are no hotels or restaurants; I stayed with a local fisherman, who graciously offered me his porch to sleep on and three meals a day.

Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra has been successfully working towards educating the locals on the fragility of the existence of olive ridley turtles. There has since been a significant decline in the poaching of turtles and their eggs.

A couple of days into the trip, the turtle eggs hatched. I’ve seen some pretty amazing sights on my travels, but few come close to watching baby turtles dig their way out of the sand and take in the world around them. With tiny flippers and soft shells, they waddled across the sand and instinctively made their way towards the ocean.

As tempting as it was to pick them up and carry them to the surf line, making this long and arduous trek is crucial for the hatchlings. It is during this walk that they memorise the location; when the females come of age and are ready to nest, they must make their way back to this very same beach.

Everyone on the beach broke into applause as the hatchlings finally reached the surf line. Tiny flippers, which seemed quite useless on sand, turned efficient and helped the babies paddle gently into the receding tide. Watching it happen was one of the most humbling and heartwarming experiences I’ve had.

“We do what we can,” said the conservation volunteer next to me, “but there’s literally an ocean full of challenges ahead of them. We hope they make it on their own and we hope the females come back to this beach some day.”

An olive ridley turtle lays her eggs in a nest on the beach, far from the surf, and covers it with sand. As they hatch, the babies slowly dig their way up to the surface. The cane basket keeps them safe from other animals until they are ready to make their way to the sea
Photographer: Vipurva Parikh
Hauling a large boat up the shore and out of the surf is no easy task, but Anand Satoskar and the other fishermen are up to the challenge every day
Photographer: Vipurva Parikh
The wonderful moment when a baby turtle finally reaches the surf and paddles into the ocean for the very first time
Photographer: Vipurva Parikh