Wondering what I am talking about? Welcome to the world of professional cleaners. They are nothing but the crabs that inhabit the broken bridge region. Working like soldiers day and night, they ensure that the place is clean, just because they love dirt. These organisms are known as Detrivores, meaning detritus feeders (dead organic matter).

One fine Sunday evening, I was clearing the plastics near the baby mangroves and to my surprise, I saw a “Red hermit crab” running across. When I closely examined the crab, I found that it was wearing a gastropod shell. Hermit crabs fight for gastropod shells which they consider as their home. Bingo! Next I saw the ever waving crabs, known as Fiddler crab. These fellows are very interesting and they are more commonly found in estuarine environments. They have their own burrows; they keep waving their claws every now and then. One might think they are retards because they keep inviting you to their burrows without even considering your size, it seems like that. There is also miniature Mud crab or Mangrove crab, which live in this ecosystem. No harm in playing with them when are small but once they grow, they become huge. If handled improperly, they can deliver a deadly bite with their claws. Mud crabs can grow up to the size of a tender coconut (Scylla serrata)

I was delighted to learn about the interactions. It is hard to believe that animals are surviving in these regions where pollution shows its real face. As a marine biology student I have been trained to assess a given ecosystem simply by looking at the flora and fauna and the interactions between them. This looks promising. If we keep cleaning the place to facilitate the growth of the mangroves, not only are the mangroves benefitted, but also these little creatures. We are not only reclaiming a lost ecosystem but also making it sustainable for the years to come.

Links

· Mud crab – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scylla_serrata

· Fiddler crab – http://www.fiddlercrab.info/

· Gastropods – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastropod_shell

A hermit crab

Fiddler CrabFiddler crab

Mud CrabMud crab

—-

Rahul, ROB

Editor’s Note – Rahul is a student of Marine Studies at MCC, doing his masters. He’s also our local expert on all things aquatic.

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The Olive Ridley sea turtle truly is a magnificent creature of the sea. It sports a beautiful heart-shaped olive-colored shell with pairs of sharp scales, or scutes, as it paddles through the open ocean, looking like a living submarine. And when the time for reproduction comes, many thousands of female turtles emerge from the sea at night to lay their eggs, a truly amazing sight. This reptile is one of the wonders of the ocean, and is a credit to aquatic life.

Olive Ridleys are the most common species of sea turtle, and approximately 800,000 females come to nest annually. Their sizes vary from region to region, but overall, they are quite small among other sea turtles, adults being 45 kilograms and 56-79 centimeters on average. The largest specimens are found on the West coast of Mexico, but there are Olive Ridley habitats in all the waters around India as well. They can be identified by their olive heart-shaped shell and the high amount of scutes, surrounding it.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of their behavior is their nesting habits. Every year, a large number of females come onto beaches and lay their eggs in masses, an activity known as an “arribada.” Although some females will lay some of their eggs away from the others, most turtles will gather in masses near the coast before moving onto the beaches for the arribada. One time, 200,000 turtles took part in a single arribada on a beach in India!

Once they lay their eggs, the mothers will go their own way. As for the eggs, those that have not been eaten by other animals hatch into baby turtles, which try to avoid predators and make their way back to the ocean.

Olive Ridley turtles have now been listed as an endangered species. Since the 1960s, the overall turtle population has gone down by 50%. Some possible threats include the destruction of beaches which are used for arribadas, directed harvest of turtles, and bycatching, which can happen when turtles are accidentally caught in nets.

One such problem occurs on the coast of Tamil Nadu in Southeastern India. Currently, the government is creating several projects to beautify the coastline. First, they are trying to build docks extending far into the ocean, which will eventually cause erosion of the beaches around it to increase, destroying the nesting sites of these turtles. To add to that, they are thinking of putting streetlights near the beach, unaware of the devastating effect it will have on the turtle population. When baby turtles hatch and dig themselves out of the sand, they get back to the ocean by following light sources such as the stars, the sun, and the moon. However, if they hatch at night, they may mistake the streetlights for these light sources and waddle onto the road, where they may get run over by cars or eaten by dogs. Also, several fishermen illegally use gill netting, in which turtles are caught as bycatch.

There are several things we can do to save these creatures. We can educate the coastal population on the dangers of the government projects and eventually petition against them. We can also educate the fishermen on why gill-netting is wrong and what areas they shouldn’t fish in.

In the end, it all comes down to education of the locals. If we don’t stop the genocide of these reptiles, bad consequences will come to the sea. Without the turtles, balance in the coastal ecosystem will be lost, for they play an important role in the ecosystem by keeping invertebrate and algae populations at bay. A decline in their population would diminish fish populations, and thus hurt fishermen. Above all, we would lose many of these beautiful creatures that inhabit our waters.

Naren Pradhan

Adopt A Baby

February 21, 2010

You know how new moms are. New dads too. But more so new moms. They can’t stop talking about their babies. So please bear with us, while we hold forth for just a few more months about our new babies. The mangroves near Broken Bridge, I mean. Today, they are all of 21 days old. They’re looking good, despite the unhealthy load of trash that is threatening to suffocate them.

Just three days back, I was at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering at the inauguration of their environment club called CARE. Across the road from the low-key and very unlikely but pleasant architecture of this college is the Chembarambakkam Eri (lake). It is the spillover from this lake that makes the Adyar River that empties into the Bay of Bengal at Broken Bridge. The trash thrown along the winding river’s watershed finds its way through streams and canals and nullahs into the river, and eventually ends up along the river banks. A lot of what doesn’t dot the banks of the river upstream ends up near the Broken Bridge.

Today, five enthusiastic ROB volunteers (all new moms and dads of the mangroves) — ranging in age from 10 to 45 — did a perfunctory clean-up of the Broken Bridge shores. They collected four bags of trash (thermocol and slippers, carrybags and old clothes) in less than an hour before realising that they were out of their depth. More people, more trash bags and more gloves were needed.

Now we have an appeal. Any body wanting to be a mangrove parent can be part of the regular clean-up every Sunday between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m. Garbage bags and gloves will be provided. Come clean up some trash. Adopt a baby mangrove. See it grow to adulthood. After all, all the trash comes from upstream, and we all live upstream.

Check the website for updates. But this much is set. Every Sunday, at least a few of us will be there at Broken Bridge cleaning up between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m. Spread the word. There are many mangroves waiting to be adopted.

Nityanand Jayaraman

ROB

ROB has a 100 Babies

February 14, 2010

If you’re starved for good news, this blog is for you. In fact, this entry is dedicated to every one of you who participated in any way in the ROB-led clean-up of Besant Nagar, Urur Kuppam, Theosophical Society and Broken Bridge beaches. This is to let you know that each one of you is now a parent of more than a hundred babies. Yes. Read on.

Yesterday, I walked with a bunch of German social work students through Urur Kuppam to the Broken Bridge. They were visiting Chennai and had just finished an hour-long interaction with other youngsters from Chennai in our Collective’s office. Archana, Kau, Kitchi and Akila had just finished telling them about Reclaim Our Beaches and our elaborate beach clean-up program. As we hopped across the sewage cesspools and the rivulets of crap oozing their way along the sands, the Germans stared at us in disbelief. “Was this stretch part of your clean-up?” one asked.

It is difficult to appreciate the difference without a before-after picture. To us (those who had been part of the clean-up), the Urur Kuppam beach was definitely markedly cleaner, and Neel Metal had been doing a better-than-usual job of cleaning up the street here. For the first time since Neel Metal won the corporation contract three years ago, bins have been installed along the Urur Kuppam beach stretch. But to the Germans, it still looked filthy. The Theosophical Society beach was cleaner, but clearly the litter was coming in. Two fishermen who were pulling in a gillnet from the shore hauled in a rich harvest of plastic trash, and two mullets, even as we explained that it was a challenge to keep the beach clean.

Broken Bridge was a humbling sight. Despite our clean-up of 30 January, and the three days of mechanised clean-up by the Corporation prior to that, styrofoam, slippers and sundry other plastic trash still littered the beach. The stretches that were cleaned, especially the area near the bridge along the water’s edge, stuck out like a healthy thumb in a festering hand. And it is here that we saw the retribution for our labour — a subtle acknowledgement by Mother Nature that she liked the small gesture of ours in cleaning up.

There are more than a hundred small, new baby mangroves that have pushed forth their seedlings from the slush. The carpet of plastic trash had suffocated life beneath it. With the deadly carpet gone, nature had taken over once again. There are a hundred new reasons why we should continue to keep that place clean, and to work out ways to prevent it from getting dirty. Give it a year, and we guarantee you a patch of healthy mangroves where one could earlier only see the obnoxious styrofoam and slippers. One youngster from Reclaim Our Beaches had just explained to the Germans a little while ago that ROB intended to defeat the Elevated Expressway. What better way to defeat it than allowing the ecosensitive mangroves to return to the Broken Bridge.

Bringing back the mangroves to the Adyar River requires nothing more than just leaving the River alone. The hundred odd ROB babies are evidence enough. My wife calls them “Thank you bouquets” from the River to us. As a responsible parent, you owe your babies a visit. I’m sure you’ll understand if they can’t leave their place to visit you. If you get to Broken Bridge, walk beneath it. But tread carefully. And if possible, carry a sack and clean up whatever you can. Every sack counts. In early March, let’s have a celebration for the month-old babies.

Nityanand Jayaraman,

ROBber

Turtle Walks

January 16, 2010

So after much procrastination on my part I finally got down to writing a blog post!

Its 12 o’clock in the night and Neelankarai beach is eerily quiet.

The beach is so much more alive and happy at this time of the day, and its actually cold! Plastic bags flutter around in the breeze, leftover by the crowd that was probably here.

Anyway before I begin to ramble…Its turtle walking season again!

Hopefully some of you have been on a turtle walk. For those of you who haven’t, you’ve definitely missed out on something! 6 kilometres of walking on the cool wet sand and searching for turtle nests and hatchlings, a wildlife lovers paradise! I’ve always wanted to visit Gahirmatha in Orissa and watch the Arribada.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s when turtles mass nest on the beach! And by mass nesting I don’t mean a few, but hundreds and hundreds of turtles converging on the beach at the same time! Chennai has its own nesting sites all along its coast for the Olive Ridleys. We do get an occasional Green turtle too.

Sadly this year there have been numerous dead turtles washed up on the beaches. We even found a sperm whale last week!   Trawling and gill nets drown the unsuspecting creatures and wash them onto the shore. Hatchlings die of dehydration as soon as they are born because of the lights on the beaches that distract them from their goal – the sea.

What is the cause for all of this?  Who is responsible? It’s us! Every year they put up more lights on the beach for ‘safety’. More trawlers are sent out to the sea to fish, and more people come to the beaches and litter.

There is a solution to this just like most other problems : If you live near the sea switch off your lights from 12 to early morning during turtle nesting season (which is from January to April)! Clean up after you have fun at the beach! And don’t forget to use those trash cans! Only then will you be awe struck like I usually am when I go on a turtle walk or visit the hatchery.

Nothing beats watching turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests. They truly are magnificent creatures.

Anjana, ROB

Star of the Sea

January 9, 2010

That, according to Berty Ashley is what Stella Maris means. (Also according to wiki and latin translations).

And that is where we all were today. Long hours of plotting went on behind closed doors and windows. Unearthly howls were reported by terrified neighbours. Eerie music and flashing lights…
Well, that was actually the disco party at the Taj. But ROB came pretty close as well.

And we sure attracted attention in Stella! Sid and Krish’s song (with enthusiastic backup by other ROBbers) was a resounding success. (Pun, geddit? Sigh. Never mind.)
Moving on- Nityanand Jeyaraman was the judge for the Debate held at Aquilae (It’s what they’ve called their culturals). The topics had the participants stymied for a while. One doesn’t often see topics like ‘Annual Beach Clean Up by NSS students- solution or problem?’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility- eyewash or sincere effort?’ and ‘Is student activism key to capturing the essence of democracy’ as topics for a debate. Not all three together!

But they were- and defended/fought for quite well by the participants. Nity seemed in his elements asking people questions that really made them stop and think and defend their stance, as opposed to rattling off arguments they’d prepared minutes ago.

ROB volunteers floated around Stella- the white, be-turtled t-shirts could be seen dotting the grounds very prettily. The ROB stall, selling the same (t-shirts not volunteers) did pretty good business.

There was a low table covered with t-shirts and the Bhopal Calendars as well as information on the aftermath of the Bhopal gas leak.
Strung up between trees were the Robbers’ photographs of the beach, hanging between the ROB banners.  Very attractive,  (We Robbers seem high on aesthetics!) attention grabbing- and likely to stay in your mind!

The Robbers from Stella did a great job co-ordinating this outreach and ROB as a group responded marvellously.

A huge thanks to Stella Maris for allowing us a stall in the culturals! And a huge round of congratulations to the volunteers responsible for today. From where I was sitting (pretty much all over the college :D) we did great!

Akhila, ROB

Yesterday was the JYG concert, at Spaces, No.1 Elliots Beach Road. Let me just take a second off to thank everyone who came… the event was a HUGE success. The show on the whole went off without a hitch.

The show itself started about half an hour or so late, but the initial trio+Sid (JYG) on guitars was spectacular. Goosebump-inducing harmonies, and voices. The mood was pretty much set when these guys dimmed the lights, and started crooning.

After they finished their set, Ameet & co. walked on stage, to thunderous applause, and proceeded to matter of factly blow everyone away, proving again, why they are where they are.

We had about 400, 450 people attending the event, and managed to fit all of them into the arena/auditorium. The sound was fantastic, and the band even better.

There was a little side-entertainment, by way of NDTV Hindu holding up everyone in the door, while the camera man was desperately trying to get his journalist in the frame, and get her heard, all while trying to communicate with the big shots in the studio over the sound of Junkyard nailing their songs. Both reporter and camera-man were red in the face and puffing at the end of the whole ordeal, and gave up, just taking a bit of video of the band playing.

The band also graciously agreed to sing a song about the beaches, with Ameet singing tongue-in-cheek ‘Save the bee-ches’.

On the whole, an absolutely rocking evening. Both for the us (organisers) and audience, and band and everything.

Finally, a big thanks to Sadanand for letting us use this space, yet again, for absolutely no cost, and bearing with all the annoyances of everything.

Krishna, ROB