19. Turtle Walk

Over 97% of Earth’s water is in the ocean. Reptiles, amphibians, shellfish, dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles and the millions of plants and animals and other forms of life make the ocean a living, breathing entity. Oceans hold most of the life on earth. They form a living symbiotic web which keeps the oceans delicately balanced and healthy. The extinction of any species can disturb this ecological balance so necessary to the ocean’s health. . Last week I had a wonderful experience of understanding the role of the Olive in Ridley turtles in this process.
1. First walking on the earth a 100 million years ago, the turtle is the oldest living reptile in the world. It has played a significant role in keeping the oceans healthy: touching coral reefs, cropping the grass on the ocean floor and fertilizing the world’s beaches and coastal dunes
Three fourths of the world’s surface is covered with water and most of it is ocean. Eighty per cent of our bodies are constituted of water. The health of people and nations is deeply connected to the oceans. Our oceans have been degraded by commercial fishing, by cruises, by technologically unsound oil exploration, by the dumping of garbage. Oceans will be the end point of climate change and global destruction.

1. Many years ago, a group of my corporate innovation participants had used the life cycle of Olive Ridley turtles as an analogy to understand the HR process better. That was when I saw these large, peaceful, lovable turtles, each weighing 50 kgs walking out of the sea to lay their eggs. As we watched fascinated on the dark beach, we saw them digging the soft sand to create a nest and settle down to lay 50-100 eggs, each the size of a ping pong ball. Students and fishermen would guard them from predators. They would never see their eggs hatch.

2. Many years passed before I walked with Supraja Dharini, founder of the Tree foundation on the dark Neelankarai Beach. Fishermen volunteers had rescued eggs from unsafe locations and recreated nests in bamboo huts. That night we watched as baby hatchlings emerged energetically from the eggs. They were gathered carefully in baskets. I was allowed to pick up one of them and release it on the sand. It was hard, dry and not at all as I had imagined. They walked fast using their flippers, like swimming champions, on the sand. A single wave swept them into the ocean, where they would live and grow into adulthood, when they would return to the same beach to lay their eggs.
Turtles are one of the few sea animals we can personally help because they come ashore to the same place ever year to lay their eggs. In the ocean, turtles play a major role in the web of life. Living in the ocean, they swim to the surface every 45 mins to breathe. They also use the land on our beaches to lay eggs and start life on land.
Their back shell or carapace, where small plants and organisms thrive, provides food for thousands of lives. Birds rest on them as they swim on the surface of the ocean. They themselves eat the grass and clean up the mess at the bottom of the ocean. They are eaten by sharks. When they lay eggs ashore; they provide rich nutrients for plant growth. They are wise and beautiful creatures.
When turtles come to the shore they are often injured by trawlers, we saw a number of injured turtles being treated in the shore ‘hospital’. Every year dozens of them land up dead or mutilated on the beach. The volunteers of the Tree Foundation try to save the injured turtles. Some of them will never be able to go back because of their injuries. It is indescribably sad to see a turtle of the mighty ocean swimming in a 5 ft tank of water. But life is like that!

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