Thursday, January 28, 2010

Conservation, Chennai Style

By Shyamala Rao
A friend said “You know, we could take a Turtle Walk”. I stopped dead in my tracks. Had I inadvertently timed my visit to Chennai to coincide with the Olive Ridley Conservation season? The walks began at Velangeri beach around midnight and ended at Besant Nagar.

On Friday, excited and a little scared, we headed out to Besant Nagar and parked. Neither of us had any idea as to how safe it was for two gals to be at the beach around midnight. Oh well, if we were risking life and limb, it was in search of adventure and experience.
We hailed one of those noisy, polluting three wheelers, the ubiquitous phut-phuts and the driver balked at going all the way to Velangeri. He took us halfway and handed us to another phut-phut driver and off we roared towards Velangeri. We flagged a pedestrian as we approached the beach and inquired if he knew where the Turtle Walk started. “Sure”, he replied, “I am one of the Scouts”. We made room for him in our vehicle and took off once more.

At Velangeri beach there were at least 50 people gathered for the turtle walk. They were chatting amiably and looking relaxed. We were introduced to Anil, Akila and Aadit. They were absolutely charming and happy to impart information. Anil was the leader of the Turtle Walk that evening. He belonged to the Students Sea Turtle Conservation Council. Akila worked for the World Wildlife Fund and was one of the scouts. Aadit and a host of others were also scouts.

We sat down in a circle, moonlight bathing us in a silvery glow with a cool breeze wafting in from the bay. Anil educated the newcomers on Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and on the ground rules for the walk. The Olive Ridley which is the smallest of the Sea Turtles grows to 2 to 2 ½ feet in length. The turtles weigh 80 to 100 pounds when full grown. They live 60 to 80 years. Their nesting season is between January and April. At high tide, the female turtles come to the shore, form a nest in the sand, deposit 50 to 100 eggs, cover the nest up and slide back to the water and go away forever. The eggs hatch in 45 to 60 days. The hatchlings are small, fragile and vulnerable and do not yet have a sense of smell. They follow the light and try to get to the water and swim away.

Anil told us that for this conservation program in Chennai the 30 kilometer stretch of beach has been divided into 7 kilometer segments and scouts patrol their segment every night from January to April. The eggs are harvested from their nests and relocated eggs to a hatchery. When the hatchlings emerge they are hand carried to the water.

With the talk over and the ground rules for that evening’s turtle walk delineated we set off on our walk, dutifully staying several feet behind the scouts. It was past midnight. High tide was receding. Less than 15 minutes into the walk, Aadit found tracks of a turtle. I peered around and saw nothing. No tracks. No nest. No one else could see anything either. Then Aadit pointed to the marks on the sand showing the path taken by the female turtle heading back to the ocean after having made her nest and deposited the eggs. Once the tracks were identified it was easier to tell the path this female sea turtle had taken. Aadit directed us to the nest and we watched him scoop out 58 eggs. They were delicate, fragile, cream coloured and spongy to touch. The eggs, Anil reminded us had to be placed in the hatchery within 3 ½ hours of being laid. After that they formed their hard shells and cannot be handled any further.

We resumed the walk and kept at it till 5 a.m. We saw 2 more nests with 70 and 120 eggs each. Thence to the hatchery. We watched as the scouts, cautiously and carefully, placed the eggs into nests fashioned by human hands. In 45 to 60 days there would be a new generation of hatchlings. Gentle human hands would be carrying the hatchlings to the water. God willing every one of them will survive.

The big picture in conservation of species can be crushingly depressing but these students have found the answer. They chose a species, defined a technique of intervention and worked like the dickens, year after year, for 21 years. “It will all add up and make a difference,” said Anil. “From your mouth to God’s ear”, I prayed silently.

Shyamala Rao is the first of what we hope to be many guest bloggers on Art for Conservation. She is a wildlife artist living and working in San Antonio, Texas where she is a practicing psychiatrist. Her interest in wildlife was stimulated by a visit to the Serengeti in 2007 and since then she has been putting her feelings about animals onto canvas. She has just begun writing about conservation issues and hopes that by writing and painting she can do her part in helping conserve the glorious diversity of species on this planet.

This post was excerpted from the full article which can be found on her
Her art can be purchased at

If you would like to guest blog for AFC, sign up here:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Join the Conversation on Conservation!

Sheesh! Say that a few times really fast!

Anyway, here’s the deal – all of us at Art for Conservation are very committed to the idea of creating community - through the website, the gallery, the blog and assorted social networking venues … the list goes on. We want to generate dialogue because ideas spring from dialogue and action springs from ideas and community turns small actions into BIG RESULTS!

We want to hear from you your ideas, your pet projects, your strategies for making a difference for the planet. And of course we would love it if you want to share some of your images in the process!

Our vision is to give guest writers a variety of opportunities to be published on Art for Conservation – the main categories on the website are Conservation News, AFC in Action, and People Making a Difference. We also have a monthly E- newsletter and our AFC Blog.

So there are lots of places for us to feature your writing, your projects and your images or videos. We want to share, to highlight, to bring attention to you and your work or the work of others – and we’ve only just begun!

Sign up here to become a Guest Writer for Art for Conservation and let’s
Start the Conversation!

Linda Helm
VP, Art for Conservation

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are you an ACTivist or INactivist?

Those words ring in my ears every time I groan at yet another email from some group or another asking me to call, send emails or write to my representatives about some issue or another. “I don’t have time!” I don’t need another distraction in my day!” I do a good enough job of distracting myself on my own.

But the fact is, if I don’t do it – you don’t do it - we don’t do it …. Then who will? The fact is that those of us who care about the environment and about the health of the planet we are leaving to our children and grandchildren, need to get up, speak up and act out every chance we get.

The window of opportunity for significant change is right now – the current administration and balance of power in Washington is our best hope for meaningful progress on the environmental front in our lifetime. Since there are no guarantees about how long this window will remain open, I feel a great sense of urgency to move the environmental agenda forward as much as possible in the next two years.

If you agree with me, there is something you can do right now – TODAY!
1Sky - A partner organization of the National Wildlife Federation, is organizing a national call-in-day to Senators tomorrow (Tues, Jan 12).

From 1Sky’s Colorado coordinator, Micah Parkin:

“With the healthcare debate now in the rearview mirror of the Senate, it is time for climate legislation to become the top priority. The planet cannot wait any longer for an effective plan to reduce global warming pollution and unfortunately a real international plan is not a possibility without first seeing action from the United States Senate. The failure to achieve a binding treaty during the Copenhagen process was just one more example of this fact.

On January 12, 1Sky activists nationwide will fire the first salvo for climate in 2010 by logging thousands of calls into U.S. Senate offices to demonstrate the widespread support that bold action against global warming pollution has from voters throughout the country.

Importantly, we will urge our Senators to oppose Sen. Murkowski's Amendment (more info below) which would take away the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases- set to come to a vote Jan. 20th.Our Colorado goals are 100 grassroots calls, 10 business calls, and 10 calls from leaders of organizations!*

Can you pitch in and make calls to your senators during business hours this Tuesday? Please RSVP YES by emailing, and you will get signed up today (so we are able to predict how many calls will be made). Then you'll receive special instructions via email for your calls before next Tuesday. Two calls to your senators will be a fast, easy, and effective way to let your voice be heard. Please sign up today to make your calls.

P.S. If we don't generate thousands of calls, it will be hard to have a real effect on the debate. *Please forward this message to five of your friends *and urge them to also sign up to make a call. (They can email me an RSVP.) *And please let me know if you would like to help phonebank others on Jan. 12 at a Climate Action Meet-up Lunch* in Boulder (or before from home). Together, we can and will make a real difference in 2010!

A little extra background info(for those who want bonus points)
The most critical issue in the first few weeks of 2010 will be making sure the Senate votes down Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) amendment that would take away the ability to use the Clean Air Act to crack down on dirty coal plants. This use of the landmark Clean Air Act legislation, which even the conservative Supreme Court approved, is important because it gives us a way to fight back against dirty coal companies even if climate legislation fails in 2010 or is so watered down as to be ineffective.

The Murkowski Amendment is expected to be up for a vote on January 20. But on Jan. 12 1Sky activists will let the Senate know that there have already been too many giveaways to dirty coal and that the American people don’t want another bailout for an out-of-date industry.

Specific message for the call will be:
"I’m calling to ask Senator Bennet/Udall to support strong
climate legislation this year that will fight global warming and help to generate millions of green jobs here in America.

The most important thing Senator Bennet/Udall can do right now is to vote “No” on the Murkowski Amendment. We’ve already had too many giveaways to the dirty coal industry. Please tell the Senator to vote no on Murkowski and to vote yes on green jobs and fighting climate change."

As Dr. Seuss’s Lorax said:
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing’s going to get better.
It’s not.

Linda Helm

Please write to let us know that you saw this blog and took action based on what you read. If people see others taking action, it can inspire them to do the same.