Visitors at the Velas Turtle fest
examine baby turtles
Ratnagiri (Maharashtra): As the day breaks, scores of tiny heads of turtle
hatchlings, with twinkling eyes, suddenly pop out of the golden
sand beach, take a precautionary look around and breathe the fresh
salty air of the Arabian Sea nearby.
And then, at top 'turtle speed', they embark on their mission - to
the inviting cool sea waters, even as over a couple of thousand
excited nature lovers and foreigners witness this miracle.
It is that time of the year again at the quiet but beautiful Velas
beach in the Konkan region's Ratnagiri district. Welcome to the
annual Turtle Festival, which kicks off Feb 19. It will continue
till the emergence of the tiny turtle hatchlings, mostly of the
Olive Ridley species, which can grow to around 4 feet in length.
"It is the culmination of a lengthy process, which starts around
November, when under the protective cover of darkness, weary
female turtles emerge from the rolling sea waves to lay their
clutches of around 120 eggs on the sandy beach here," Bhau Katdare,
head of the NGO, Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra (SNM), which organises the
annual festival, told IANS.
Oblivious to the world that awaits them, the tiny hatchlings march
in scores and hundreds to the nearby horizon - the lashing sea
waves - even as hordes of nature lovers and tourists marvel at the
This year, over 2,000 nature lovers, including many foreign
tourists, shall converge for the annual Turtle Festival.
For the first time, the fest hosted by SNM has got the official
participation of the forest deparment, the Velas Gram Panchayat
and the Kasav Mitra Mandal, said Katdare.
"This year, erratic climatic conditions, including the late onset
of winter, have made it difficult to predict the exact dates on
which the turtle hatchlings will emerge from their eggs," Katdare
Incidentally, this is the second festival in less than eight weeks
in the picturesque coastal Konkan region. In the last week of
December, the Kirat Trust held its first turtle festival at
Vengurla beach in Sindhudurg district bordering Goa, around 425 km
Considering the importance of sea turtles in the marine ecosystem,
SNM undertook a mission to protect marine turtles and their eggs
and has ensured the safe release of hatchlings in the past nine
"We have successfully implemented the project in 36 villages
across the coast of Maharashtra, protecting 681 nests and
releasing nearly 35,000 turtle hatchlings into the Arabian Sea," a
proud Katdare said.
This year, the forest department has provided financial and
logistical support to the NGO, further strengthening the marine
turtle conservation movement in the state and encouraging others
like Kirat Trust to chip in with their efforts.
He said while the giant Sea Green Turtles, which can measure up to
13 feet in length, are rare in this area, the Olive Ridleys come
in large numbers for the nesting season which got under way in
November and will continue all of February and beyond, depending
on the weather conditions.
The nature lovers and tourists who throng Velas shall be given
reasonably priced simple accommodation at Rs.320 per head,
including all meals and basic comforts in the homes of the
In between viewing the turtle hatchlings, the visitors can also go
sightseeing in and around Velas, the birthplace of the historical
figure Nana Phadnavis, a diplomat during the Peshwa regime of
western Maharashtra in the 17th century whose monument is
constructed in the village.
Besides, at Himmatgad near Bankot, there is the tomb of Mary
Sophia and her infant daughter Ellen, the wife and daughter
respectively of a British civil servant Arthur Malet. The duo,
along with 13 others had drowned in a boat tragedy in the Savitri
river and the tomb was built in memory of Malet's wife and
Visitors, especially birdwatchers, can view hordes of migratory
birds, and the breathtaking beauty of Kelshi and Harihareshwar
Velas and its picturesque surroundings have been popular locales
where several Bollywood movies, including "Swades", "Yudh", "Gangaajal",
"Goonj Uthi Shehnai" and others have been shot.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)