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Goa, Going, Gone? Turtles and Tourism in Coastal India

Long a Shangri-la for freedom-questing European hippies, the sandy white beaches of Goa have gradually attracted a more upmarket clientele — and in the process turned away hordes of Olive Ridley marine turtles, which have used the beaches for nesting purposes for centuries.

Marine turtles are among the most threatened species in the world: only one in 1,000 turtles grows to adulthood. Alert though the Indian government was when they introduced the National Turtle Sea Conservation project in 1981, ideas to develop a solution carried little weight in the face of an increasing influx of tourists and ever-expanding entertainment facilities, hotels, and apartment blocks.

However, since the forest department of Goa initiated a turtle conservation effort in 1996, the problem has received more attention. For example, increasing the protected area of Morjim Beach showed a gradual increase from five nesting turtles in 1997/8 to 32 in 2000/1, and the 10 located on Galgibag Beach in 1999 had increased to 33 in 2001. Here, and in Agonda, the third most popular nesting beach, the female turtle strategically chooses a quiet, uninhabited spot close to a river mouth, usually where she was born.

Because the breeding season, which runs from October to March, coincides with peak tourist season, the turtles, which spent 98 percent of their lives at sea, presented Morjim locals with a way to promote eco-tourism. Instead of poaching the tiny eggs, the villagers built eco-shacks for tourists and developed a system whereby sighting reports were financially rewarded. Members of these programs go out of their way to keep their beaches clean, as refuse attracts predatory dogs and cows; loud music and bright lights, which turn baby turtles away from the sea, are also forbidden.

Local communities are urged to improve the turtles’ plight, and volunteers set up six-hour vigils to ensure nesting areas are always protected. Volunteers, who stay in simple accommodation with a communal kitchen, design awareness posters, set up rubbish bins, discourage use of plastic and plan conservation-related events like the Turtle Fair.


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