“Dude, let’s go to the beach” was a text message or call I used to receive almost every day of my college life in Chennai. Little did I know back then that my going to the beach would be one day equivalent to my going to the office. Every evening I would head to the Besant Nagar beach with my friends. There I had heard about a bunch of students who used to stay up all night and walk on the beach looking for nesting sea turtles and protecting their eggs from destruction by relocating them to hatcheries. I never joined them in that walk during my stay of 20 years in Chennai. Then I went on to do my masters in wildlife biology and ended up working on sea turtles in a relatively small and unknown part of Southern Odisha.
I first visited the Rushikulya beach on a study tour during my masters and got to interact with some of the other researchers working there. Something then drew me back to that place to start my work on that peculiar beach and the turtles that nest there. As I had mentioned earlier, I thought I was quiet an experienced beach bum since I spent more time on the beach than college in Chennai. For me going to the beach was to hop onto a bus (later graduated to a bike/car) and walk towards the sea along the sand just off the main road. In my mind the beach was a stable body of sand next to the sea which would remain in the same place day after day for the years to come. Then the Rushikulya beach happened…
First thing I noticed was that contrary to my expectations, the beach was not right next to where I parked my two- wheeler, but rather a kilometres’ hike away through muddy nullahs and streams. The natives of Rushikulya showed me how a river mouth beach shifts every year. Ever since my first visit in 2009, I have seen the beach growing/shrinking at different sites. The local field staff showed me some areas where mass nesting used to take place in the mid 90’s. Seeing it now almost 500 m away from the shoreline, completely covered by vegetation and in no way resembling a sandy nesting beach where turtles could possible nest mind-boggling. There are remnants of turtle eggs still in the sand as well some old concrete poles which were placed to demarcate the census sectors for mass nesting.
Even in these three years that I have worked there, the mouth of the Rushikulya has shifted every year. Due to some oddity, maybe in the river flow rates or oceanic currents, the sand deposition rate on southern side of the river mouth has increased while mass nesting beach of the past is slowly eroding away. First it was a small sandbar which deviated the river flow a little but it grew by about a Kilometre in one year to ‘push’ the river mouth thus blocking a sizable portion of the beach where mass nesting used to occur. The following year (2011) it had grown further and was now four km long and now the entire ‘sea beach’ was facing the river. With the sudden change in weather and cyclone Thane hitting the south east coast of India, the sea was extremely rough. The next time I went to the beach the sand bar had broken in front of where the old river mouth was, and now resembled an isolated island in front of the beach. This year the walk from Purunabandha village to search for nesting turtles is proving to be another exciting task where we would have to cross the river at night and patrol the beach. Will this beach stay as it is, will it erode away into the sea or will it come and attach itself to the mainland beach forming a ‘new’ beach, I will have to wait and see…
These beaches will never end to amaze and confuse me until I am able to answer some of the questions that haunt me. Why, how and when these dynamic beaches form? What draws nearly 100,000 turtles to migrate year after year to these beaches and make them their breeding ground…
Murlidharan M. is a Research Assistant with Dakshin Foundation and Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and works on olive ridleys in Odisha.
Sir, its very interesting.Is it possible to work with olive ridley turtle?I am m. sc qualified student.
I really learned about nearly all of this, but in spite of this, I still believed it had been useful. Excellent post!
Dear Murli Jee,
A good presentation. Could you please replace Orissa with Odisha in all your future article. Hope you do.
Dear Mangaraj Ji,
We have changed Orissa to Odisha. Thanks for pointing it out.
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