Can we save sea turtles after driving away the fishing communities? 

December 2016

by Rahul Muralidharan and Aarti Sridhar (translated from Tamil. Originally published in The Tamil Hindu on 10.12.2016

In January every year, olive ridley sea turtles arrive on Tamil Nadu’s beaches to nest. This is an event happening since time immemorial but sea turtles are neither new nor fascinating to fishers because they have seen these turtles all their lives. Still, fishers would have never imagined that sea turtles would turn them into villains. In early September this year, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department issued an order that bans all types of fishing within 5 nautical miles of the coast, across 90 villages in 8 coastal districts. This order was said to protect migrating olive ridleys, in the months between January and April. How and why did this happen? Let us take a brief look at the history of sea Turtle conservation in Tamil Nadu and examine what is at stake now for coastal fishing communities.

Creating a drama

A news article published in Times of India, titled “Murder most foul”, raised alarm over the death of 35 olive ridley turtles along the Chennai beach on a single day. This came to the attention of the Madras High Court which took up a suo moto case. Eventually the Fisheries Department produced a conservation plan but an expert appointed to audit the plan said it was inadequate. But the expert also pointed out that the plan was too harsh on small-scale fishers because it suggested banning all types of fishing around turtle nesting sites. Other conservationists agreed that boats less that 10 HP can fish in the waters during the sea turtle migration season but they demanded intensive patrolling and monitoring to control the types of fishing gear used in this season. The alarm raised by the media and audit reports and the extreme protection measures suggested by conservationists misrepresents the problem. 

History of sea turtle conservation

It all began in the 1970s when members of the Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank Trust walked the beaches of Chennai to document sea turtles and their threats – Tamil Nadu emerged as one of the birthplaces of sea turtle conservation in India.

Female olive ridley sea turtles use the beach as their nesting place. To protect their eggs from being eaten, people would relocate it to a hatchery where the eggs incubated over the next 45 days. Over the years, several fishers began to participate by walking the beaches at night and helping conservationists maintain these hatcheries. Many people came and went, but finally a group of student volunteers got together to establish the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) in 1988 which is functional until this day.

Later groups such as the TREE Foundation also took the help of local fishing communities to do conservation. For instance, the release of hatchlings after 45 days of incubation is celebrated as a public event where large numbers of both children and adults participate. 

Local fishing communities have been an important part of this and also serve as educators to other people who see sea turtles for the first time in the lives. But the latest fishing ban issued by the Fisheries Department, to protect turtles, is unjust and has damaged this relationship between local people and turtles. If local fishers are not the problem, where then does the real problem lie? 

The state of marine resources in Tamil Nadu

If you ask small-scale fishers about the state of fisheries and their livelihoods, they will tell you that they are living in depressing times. Tamil Nadu was one of the first states in the country to promote modern fishing technologies such as mechanised bottom trawling and synthetic fishing gear. But such changes were unregulated and resulted in conflicts between bottom trawlers and small-scale fishers, because they all operated in the same near-shore areas. Unionized protests by the small-scale fishers resulted in the Tamil Nadu Marine Fisheries Regulation Act, 1983 which secures 3 nautical miles for small-scale fishing, but this has rarely been enforced. But now, this new Fisheries Department order places sea turtles protection in the forefront rather than the livelihood concerns of the fishers and what is more, it extends the ban to 5 nautical miles. It is incorrect and strange that a law originally intended to protect small-scale fishers is now being used against them. This definitely needs to be challenged.

Conservation futures

While the protection and conservation of nesting sea turtles is important, at the same time ensuring sustainable livelihoods in the already burdened fisheries sector is essential. 

Just banning fishing along the coast is simply not an answer. Conservationists need to come up with solutions that are socially just and environmentally sound, to strengthen existing relationships between sea turtles and fishing communities rather than breaking them. 

SSTCN’s sea turtle records for the past 30 years show that Tamil Nadu’s sea turtle nesting population is stable. This success needs to be seen as the result of conservationists and fishing communities working hand-in-hand to secure sea turtle populations. Conservationists and the fisheries department need to come up with better management strategies for the marine environment. How can we get them to do so without banning all fishing?



Submerging history, culture and identity

Vibi Yhokha | Kohima, March 25

A visit to Chadong village, a Naga village under Ukhrul district in Manipur will give you a rare view of uncertainty and apprehension living under the shadow of a dam construction. The village carries a deserted look. There are no children playing around, no old people sunbathing outside and most houses are in a dilapidated condition. The Church too appears empty on a Sunday.

Chadong village is one among the 11 villages that will soon be submerged under the Mapithel Dam construction of the Thoubal Multi Purpose Project. On January 10 this year, the Thoubal river was blocked, leading the water levels to rise and submerging 10 hectares of land including paddy fields. By monsoon, most of the paddy fields will submerge.

Standing 66 metres high and 1074 metres long, the dam was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980. Ansal Properties and Industries Limited, New Delhi and Progressive Construction Limited Hyderabad are taking on the construction works. The project is set to produce 7.5 megawatt of electricity while providing 10 million gallons of water to Imphal, daily. However the project will displace over 12,000 people, submerge around 11 villages and 777.34 hectares of paddy fields, 110.75 hectares of homestead, 293. 53 hectares of jhum land and 595.1 hectares of forest land.

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Faced with this scenario, some men gathered in the community hall to talk about their struggle. Each face carried a gaunt look. That look is of fatigue – fatigue from protesting for almost twenty five years against the dam construction. They seem to have lost count of the protests and rallies held. In 2015 itself, four protests were held. One of them mentioned that this fatigue under the shadow of the dam has dissuaded them from building toilets for years. Their struggle is one of the longest against construction of dams in India. (See – Narmada,

Despite the area being a Seismic zone 5 (the highest risk zones), no Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted, nor Social Impact Assessment (SIA) carried out, an assessment that is most crucial in any developmental projects that will determine the resettlement, rehabilitation and relocation of the inhabitants. The villagers were never given any Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

After much protest and talks, the Manipur government agreed to provide compensation, however only a few were compensated, that too in seven installments from 1996 to 2003. Demands were also made to the authorities to do a holistic review of the project.

The government never listened, says Thamni Kashung, a resident of Chadong and Advisor for the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organisation (MDAVO). “For us, we will continue to protest until our genuine demands are met,” asserts Thanmi. One of their demands being resettlement and relocation of the whole community together, so that the relationships are kept intact and their culture preserved. However no assurances were given.

(Someone asks about the year of establishment of the village over which Honreikhui Kashung replies, “There is no historical record, because we have been settling here since time immemorial.” Chadong village has been there since time immemorial that the villagers know the name of each plant and insect in their land. As is the case for many areas in the region, records of the village only appear with the arrival of Christianity in 1935.)

Our voice and struggle has become so powerless, says Honreikhui Kashung as he cites how the government continues to use different tactics to suppress their movements, to the extent of using outfits to threaten the activists.

As one passes through the dam site, 5 military deployments can be seen. Inside Chadong village, the Manipur Rifles and the Manipur Police are posted, with one attached right opposite the village church.

“They promised us a better future, but with the coming of the project we are feeling more insecure and apprehensive,” says Dominic, an advocate. He laments that the community that once rejoiced together in festivals is now finding themselves divided.

In recent years, divisions had already started among the villagers. Some groups formed a separate committee negotiating with the government without the people’s mandate. Fictitious households and names were included in a list demanding compensation. Soon the committee members received the money and fled the village.

“People here are all farmers. To look out for an alternative arrangement is very difficult. But we will still struggle. The thought of our future is very dark,” adds Dominic.

The Thoubal River (also known as Yangwui Kong in the Tangkhul Naga dialect) means the river of strength, because of its strong currents. Community fishing is held every year at the Chadong village, where the community fish and feast together. Chadong village is also known for its soil fertility and its bountiful granaries, where a year’s harvest can last for the next two years. The organic food products of Chadong such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms and wild vegetables are supplied in the markets of Imphal and Yaingangpokpi.

Chadong has a population of 1200 people. The project will displace over 12,000 people. Once the dam is inaugurated and implemented in full swing which is most likely to happen by April, Chadong village will submerge by monsoon. The villagers will relocate to another place. They will soon resort to jhum cultivation in the upper range of the lands which will have adverse impacts on the forest lands.

For the Manipur government, it will just be land that has been submerged. For people in villages like Chadong, it is not just a piece of land that will be submerged, but a community’s home, history, culture, identity, and livelihood. What took decades and centuries to build will be submerged within a few months of time.

This article by Vibi Yhokha has already been published in The Morung Express on March 25, 2015. She is a journalist who shares with us stories from the north eastern region of India.

The Guindy National Park (GNP) is dying a slow death by a thousand cuts – Join the campaign now


Green spaces that provided critical corridors for wildlife to move in and out of the park are being eaten into. National parks and wildlife sanctuaries require a buffer zone around them where human activities are strictly regulated and pressures on the ecosystem and wildlife are kept to a minimum. Without such buffers, parks have little chance for surviving in the long run. Such a buffer zone is legally mandated. The Tamil Nadu Government has refused to notify a buffer zone around the Guindy National Park.

This will mean that even the last remaining green spaces and the wildlife habitats around the Guindy National Park, such as the Raj Bhavan and Indian Institute of Technology-Madras’ campuses, will have no protection under law. Along with GNP, the Raj Bhavan and IIT-M campuses contain the last remaining healthy stands of the rare Southern Thorn Forests and the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest types.


Please join this campaign:

The Vettiver Collective has organised a human chain campaign with colourful banners and white shirts near the Besant Nagar Eliot’s beach police booth at 5.30 p.m. Please join them this evening to save the city’s national park.

shared by Vettiver Collective. 

Radioactive Wolves

English. 52 mins 09s.

What happens to nature after a nuclear accident? And how does wildlife deal with the world it inherits after human inhabitants have fled? The historic nuclear accident at Chernobyl is now 25 years old. Filmmakers and scientists set out to document the lives of the packs of wolves and other wildlife thriving in the dead zone that still surrounds the remains of the reactor.