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