I was on a trip with my family to Gokarna, a quieter and supposedly cleaner version of Goa. It was to be my second trip to its famously beautiful Kudle beach, where my famously beautiful older sister - Natalia, was staying at the time.
The group of us, ukuleles and pillows included, all piled into our Innova and drove into the sunset. Many tunes, word games and naps later, we arrived!
I knew this trip was going to be different. My parents, younger sister and cousin were all amazed by the beauty that lay before us. All I felt was a familiarity and a slight nostalgia as I remembered the last time I had walked down that shore with the sand between my toes and the sun blazing above my head, barely able to enjoy our first glimpses of the ocean, as my friends and I had rushed across the beach in search of an affordable place to stay in. We were happy to stay in any shelter available at the time, but were soon upset about the distance between the three shacks we had inhabited. A sacrifice we were forced to make since everything else was already booked. In retrospect, at least it prepared us for social distancing. With my family however, our goal was to spend time with my sister and we were keen to stay with her. It proved to be easier than I had thought, because the beach was as bare as the many sun-kissed bodies that lay in the sand on my last vacation. What a difference it made to visit off-season. We gathered in the central yard of the small shacks we had rented and we dallied around with a litter of puppies that were recently birthed. The friendly mother was happy to let us hold her little ones and get a break from having to nurse them all day.
We were nothing short of excited about all the sights and sounds that were to come.
The next morning, my little sister - Debbie, spotted a huge turtle on the edge of the shoreline. It lay there as if it were observing the vibrant colours spread across the sky at the break of dawn. Her enthusiasm was evident in her gait, even though she walked as quietly and gently as she could to get a closer look. Her excitement disappeared as quickly as it had arrived when she discovered that this beautiful Olive Ridley's stillness was not the calm that came with the rising sun, but the kind of eerie placidity that only comes with death.
She came back perturbed and told us about it. Becky (I mean, Natalia) sadly explained to us that this wasn’t her first sighting of the corpse of a turtle in her short time staying there. The locals had mentioned that the turtle was very bloated, owing to the fact that it had consumed large amounts of plastic.
Although I was already aware that it wasn't a pleasant sight, I had never seen a turtle in the wild before and wanted to get a glimpse. A year before, we wouldn't have even noticed a sea creature amidst the crowds of people frolicking about with frisbees and sandcastles, holidaying in oblivion.
Photo Credits: Jacob Isaac
I arrived at the spot around the same time as a hungry crow, which began to peck at the carcass of the marooned creature. While the crow had its belly-full, I could only think about all the toxins, micro-plastics and unbreakable synthetics that had entered the food chain and that could eventually lead to its death as well.
Upon my return to our lodgement, I was taken by surprise at the view of newly dumped garbage scantily hidden by a thin fence. It was all generated by a single shack, within a day's work. The piles of plastic bottles, used incessantly and without consideration of the effects they had caused, left me without
Uncomfortable truths are often ignored in the pretence of joie de vivre. We allow our consciences to be washed away by the ocean, with as much subtlety as it does a rotting body of a gentle sea-creature. We cultivate apathy - a pathogen existent long before 2020.
"We can only determine the cause of death based on what the body looks like, but unless we empty the contents of their stomachs, we can't be sure. However, the Olive Ridley sea turtle is an endangered species. It often consumes floating plastic assuming they're jellyfish, which consist a huge part of their actual diet. The accumulation of plastic in their bodies forces their systems into a state of fatal shock. Plastic bits sometimes also get stuck inside their nostrils or shells - which greatly damage their shells or suffocate them, leading to exhaustion." says Oshin Chris, a marine biologist and kind friend whom I must thank for helping me identify the turtle.
Not-so-fun facts about how pollution affects turtles:
Plastic pollution is one of the leading causes for the death of sea-turtles. It is said that every one in twenty Olive Ridley's that nest on the shore die of plastic consumption. (via The Hindu) Recorded marine debris includes plastic in many forms - bags, packaging, rings, straws, twine, bottles, balloons and many other things that can be easily avoided if we try.
Sea turtles are incredibly sensitive to noise and light, both of which cause the turtles to move away from their nesting sites and off-route from their regular paths toward the ocean. Bright lights in coastal regions stop the newly hitched adults from nesting and confuse the newly hatched. Continuous low-frequency noise sometimes results in hearing damage and often disturbs them.
The other common water pollutants consist of oil, petroleum and industrial waste (fertilisers, synthetic chemicals). These affect the health of the turtles as they concentrate in their organs and/or eggs, damaging them significantly. This results in many terrible dysfunctions in their respiratory, reproductive, gastrointestinal or endocrine systems.
You may not be able to solve every problem that the sea turtle faces, but every little thing that you do counts! Zero-waste living helped us as a family completely avoid contributing to the overconsumption of plastic at the beach. Another way we were able to help the turtles was to avoid the famous motor boat rides that take you to visit the other beaches, leaving oil-trails behind them. Additionally, we made an effort to pick up any garbage that we saw lying around and dispose of it in the right manner.
Finally, while the beach night-life might be thrilling for some, the loud music and flashing lights can be disorienting and fatal for the baby turtles being hatched while you dance the night away.
This turtle was dead, but many others don't have to be!
Photographs taken by me, unless mentioned otherwise