Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Turtle Day 2020: Here's an app for you to aid conservation

Kurma mobile application lets users collate, exchange data on turtles

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Saturday 23 May 2020
A crowned river turtle (Hardella thurjii). Unsustainable harvesting, illegal trade and habitat degradation threaten turtles across the country Photo: Shailendra Singh / Turtle Survival Alliance-India

Wildlife enthusiasts can now help scientists and conservationists by updating photos and information on turtles on the newly launched Kurma mobile application, launched on the occasion of World Turtle Day. The application will be made available on both Android and iOS platforms.

This special turtle-tracking app will help in accurately identifying species and help in reporting turtle sightings, apart from enlisting the help of experts and local help centres.

India has a rich turtle biodiversity. Unsustainable harvesting, illegal trade and habitat degradation, however, threaten turtles across the country. Only a few conservationists across the country work on turtle conservation, to make matters worse.

Involving citizens

A group of leading conservation agencies have come together to launch the citizen-science initiative, named the Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network (ITCAN).

This provides a platform for the exchange of vital information on turtles, promises to engage the general public in ground data collection and provide assistance to enforcement agencies / forest departments. Thus, ITCAN can lead to potential conservation success stories through its tool, the Kurma app.

ITCAN will also help in observing 2020 as the year of the turtle, celebrated across the world by conservation agencies and zoos interested in turtle conservation.

Indian eyed turtle (Morenia petersi) Photo: Rishika Dubla / TSA

Indian eyed turtle (Morenia petersi) Photo: Rishika Dubla / TSA-India

The onus of species’ conservation was on scientists and conservationists for a long time, according to Assam-based herpetologist Jayaditya Purkayastha who has worked for the rescue and revival of the black softshell turtle found in temple ponds since 2012.

But things are changing and now there is a lot of potential. The power of the internet and technology has to be realised as several people now have access to smart phones, said Purkayashta.

“If somewhere a black softshell turtle is sold, someone can circulate this information in the app. This will help us in informing enforcement agencies,” he added.

Kartik Shanker, faculty at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, said the citizen-science initiative serves twin purposes.

He said:

“We need scientific information for management of different species. This is usually collected by biologists and conservationists on a limited scale. So, by involving citizens, we can add to the volume of information over both time and space”.

 This process of involving citizens in data collection will engage civil society more in environmental conservation, according to Shanker.

Conservation in times of COVID-19

Turtle conservation has always been challenging as India has few experts on turtles. In the light of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), however, it has become increasingly difficult to reach out to more experts.

“This initiative, however, will help us monitor turtle populations and provide timely assistance by bringing various people from different backgrounds on board,” said Shailendra Singh, who heads the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) in India.

Volunteers and coordinators will be deputed for rescue and identification in each state, Singh added.

The citizen-science initiative was already present when it came to birds — in the form of the Indian Bird Conservation Network — with a similar information network needed for turtles, according to Singh.

Forest departments need more eyes and ears, said Singh, adding that 17 out of 29 freshwater turtle and tortoise species were endangered.

“The app, which is free, will contain a lot of valuable information. The entire project was supported and funded by TSA and the Wildlife Conservation Society India,” Singh added.

Freshwater turtles were gradually becoming neglected as marine turtles got more attention, said Rishika Dubla, development coordinator at TSA-India.

There was more work done on marine turtles than freshwater turtles across the world, according to Purkayastha.

One of the major challenges was understanding distribution of turtles across India, according to Jose Louies of the Wildlife Trust of India.

“The app will help in understanding the distribution of various turtle species across the country,” he said, adding that it could help with several things when used in a correct manner. The idea was to involve more people as conservationists cannot just work with enforcement agencies, said Louies.

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