Velas, a small village on the west coast of Maharashtra in the district Ratnagiri comes alive in the months of February and March every year. A month-long festival starting mid-February takes place on Velas beach.
A festival of birth, survival and conservation. A festival to witness the maiden journey of baby Ridley turtles towards the open sea. That’s the Velas Turtle Festival.
Olive Ridley turtles visit Velas beach every year to lay their eggs. Olive Ridley females return to their birthplace for that, though the return journey can take as long as 15 years. They lay their eggs on the beach and return to the sea. The eggs are left on the beach to incubate. There begins the struggle for survival. The eggs and, if eggs survive, the new born turtle babies fall prey to predators like dogs, mongoose, eagles, vultures and even humans.
As soon as the villagers and some NGOs became aware that Olive Ridleys are endangered species, they got involved actively in the conservation efforts. They formed Kaasav Mitra Mandal (literally meaning Friends of the Turtle) committee.
Every season the members of committee and volunteers search for the Olive Ridley eggs on the beach, bring them to a safe place and protect them during their incubation period. Once hatched, they escort the new born turtle babies to the sea.
The festival began in 2005 and since then it has gained a lot of popularity. As a natural consequence, the festival attracts a lot of photography enthusiasts. Everyone is keen to watch and shoot the maiden journey of turtle babies to the sea. So much so that the volunteers have to protect the turtles from the photogs more than any other predators.
Looking at this photo one of my friends lamented –
“What a miserable life for that small turtle with so many people around…”.
The same thought had prompted me to record this scene. But then immediate realization was, the only reason these turtles are alive is because they have so many people around.
Miserable, yet it’s the matter of survival!