At daybreak on a wet August day, an injured Olive Ridley turtle washed ashore on Mumbai’s Juhu seashore. By eight am, a lifeguard had reached out to Shaunak Modi, 36, asking if he might assist. Modi, who lives close by, was on the spot 5 minutes later.
Modi is a marine researcher and a primary responder. His job that morning was easy: to maintain the canines, crows and selfie-obsessed crowds away till the authorities might get to the spot and take the turtle in for rehabilitation.
He took images and assessed the situation of the animal. “I noted that its left flipper was injured, probably by propeller blades. There wasn’t anything more I could do while I waited,” he says. “Turtles are Schedule 1 animals. The only people allowed to handle them are the people authorised to handle them.”
That turtle turned the second animal taken to the newly inaugurated turtle rehabilitation transit centre at Airoli, about an hour’s drive from Juhu, and its first success story. Before this, the turtles needed to be taken to the Dahanu transit centre, about 4 hours away. Many had their possibilities of restoration and survival lowered by the lengthy journey.
The Airoli transit centre is funded and was began by the state authorities’s Mangrove Cell and the Mangrove Foundation, an autonomous unit beneath the forest division. Running it’s a group effort too.
Dr Rina Dev, a veterinarian who runs a clinic for unique birds and animals in Mumbai, has been working with stranded turtles for 3 years and now works on the centre.
First respondents like Modi and Dev are drawn from a three-year-old group known as Marine Respondents, a community that stretches alongside the Mumbai coast, made up of activists, nature lovers, fishermen, lifeguards and authorities staff. They coordinate by way of a WhatsApp group and snap into motion each time there’s a stranding. Having such a community in place implies that fishermen and native residents know whom to achieve out to for assist.
“A voluntary group like the Marine Respondents act as primary informers to the Mangrove Cell,” says Neenu Somraj, deputy conservator of forests. “Because of the traffic in Mumbai, it takes us a while to reach the location of the stranding. That’s when a volunteer group like this becomes important in crowd management, to cordone off the area and let the animal remain untouched till we arrive. Further, trained vets in the group, like Dr Dev, also help us carry out necropsies and treat the injured animals.”
Each incident and its final result are logged, post-mortems carried out and causes of demise famous in each case. “Before 2017, we had no reliable data to help us understand what was happening, or why. Fishermen would just bury dead marine life in the sand or the corpses would be dumped in a landfill,” says Pradip Patade, 53, one other first responder and founding father of Marine Life of Mumbai, a residents’ collective that paperwork tide pool and shoreline biodiversity.
It was the Marine Respondents who turned up when whales washed ashore in 2017 and turtle hatchlings had been sighted on the Versova seashore in 2018. “Citizen participation has waned over the years but what remains is a handful of super-committed volunteers who dutifully show up when the call comes,” says Modi.
About a dozen turtles get stranded on the shores of Mumbai yearly, says Harshal Karve, a marine biologist with the Mangrove Foundation. With the community, the primary responders and now the brand new rehabilitation centre, “we are seeing great results,” Karve provides. “Now we are working on setting up similar systems in Ratnagiri, Raigad and Sindhudurgh [along the state’s coast].”
With seven tanks, every about three ft excessive and with a capability of 1,000 litres, the brand new remedy centre can accommodate as much as 10 turtles at a time. It has obtained three because it opened in end-July.
One sadly succumbed to its accidents; one remains to be recuperating. And that morning’s Olive Ridley has made a full restoration. After passing a swim test, he was launched again into the ocean on October 28.
Interestingly, the most important problem the transit centre confronted when it first opened can be indicative of why a lot marine life is popping up sick on town’s shores — the ocean water that the centre was drawing from simply off the Mumbai coast was so filthy and polluted that it was impeding the restoration of the turtles.
“There were a couple of expensive ways to deal with this problem and they were all tried, with weak results,” Karve says. “When expensive filtration systems failed, we started adding sea salt to try and purify the water, which had great results with the turtles but was exceeding our budget.”
In the spirit of collaboration that has helped the venture at each stage, a neighborhood engineer heard about the issue on the Airoli facility and customised a filtration system for a fraction of the associated fee.
Now, there are first responders, vets on name, a close-by rehab centre full of fresh water. “We’ve never had so much data to work with either,” Patade says. “Five years down the line, we’re going to have enough to not only understand our marine life better, but also help in some serious conservation efforts along the coast of Maharashtra.”