Sailing the flagship fantastic: myth and reality of sea turtle conservation in India.
Abstract As a part of mythology, sea turtles are worshipped in many parts of India. In recent times, they have also become fl agships for conservation, with champions amongst wildlife conservationists as well as local communities. Sea turtle conservation in India by the state and non-governmental organisations is about thirty years old. What started with a conservation programme by a group of dedicated individuals in Madras and a research programme by the state Forest Department at the mass nesting beaches in Orissa has now spread to most coastal states in India. While some turtle conservation projects are still run by the respective state Forest Departments, many are run by non-governmental organisations, ranging from students to animal activists to local communities. Of particular interest is a students’ group in Madras, which has survived despite the lack of formal structure, principally due to the attraction of working with sea turtles. Of even greater interest are the fi shermen of a small hamlet in Kerala, who started with a sea turtle conservation programme, and thanks in part to its success, are now leaders of their community on a number of social and environmental issues. On the other hand, the very visibility of sea turtles in Orissa may have promoted the creation of a rift between diverse communities of fi shermen and conservationists; and the species has, instead of being a source of pride and valued heritage, become a bone of contention in a highly polarised and politicised battle. Hence, the use fl agships can sometimes drive conservation and social change, and at others, be a detriment to both environmental and social development.