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Forest department and lifeguards join hands to rescue marine animals

PANAJI: Marine wildlife, including Olive Ridley, green turtles, humpback dolphins and finless porpoises, have been frequenting Goa's waters often. Last year, a dwarf sperm whale washed ashore alive on Palolem beach. The unusual event drew a very difficult-to-manage crowd of curious onlookers and that was when a need for a marine wildlife stranding response network was felt.

The forest department has been rescuing, attending to and documenting stranded marine animals on Goa's coast for years, but now with Drishti lifeguards scattered across Goa's beaches pitching in, the response time has been considerably reduced.

For the very first time, in June this year, the forest department and Drishti lifeguards came together at a workshop conceptualized by Terra Conscious, a conservation oriented social enterprise promoting responsible marine and coastal tourism and supported by the Goa forest department and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN India) where 150 participants were trained how to respond to live stranding or deaths.

Since then, over 20 marine wildlife strandings (turtles and dolphins), all Schedule I Species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, have been reported, where safety protocols—such as wearing gloves—are being followed to reduce the risk of disease exchange and injury. Most of the stranded marine animals documented have been turtles, many of whom were found trapped in nets or washed ashore, Drishti Marine's South Goa sector head Shashikant K Jadhav says.

Lifeguards sometimes dive in, untangle turtles from the net, look for injuries and hand them over to the forest department. They have also reported carcasses of dolphins and rescued snakes. Lifeguards also play an important role in ensuring a safe distance is maintained between the animal and the crowd that gathers, so as not to scare the animal and avoid any infection from being transmitted. "We learnt how dolphins breathe, how to approach one washed ashore and how to hold one. We have learnt to value and love marine life; and implement the knowledge on a daily basis," Jadhav adds.

Once reported to the forest department's rescue control rooms in Margao or Campal, the department's team takes over the rescue operation and extends medical aid with the help of a government vet. In case of a carcass, a postmortem is conducted. "This new arrangement, where lifeguards are assisting us, has helped reduce the response time and ensured that the stranded animals receive the immediate attention they deserve. It also helps us reach a carcass in time and ensure its safe disposal, before it starts rotting on the beach," conservator of forests, wildlife, Anil Kumar says.

During the turtle breeding season—between October and April/May—the forest department's turtle watchers are available 24x7 at Morjim, Agonda and Galgibaga to assist Olive Ridley turtles that come ashore to lay eggs.

Founder of Terra Conscious, Puja Mitra, says people can also be trained as citizen volunteers under an ocean watch programme to report and monitor marine animal strandings as is being done in other countries so as to assist the forest department in its efforts along Goa's 105km-long coastline. "This is a great collaborative initiative to provide the necessary data for better conservation of these endangered species along our coastline," she says. The forest department is looking at conducting more such capacity building workshops to sensitize more people.

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Source: Forest department and lifeguards join hands to rescue marine animals

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