The land where abound with plentiful of Aruak trees (Garcinia xanthrochymus) from which the nomenclature of the village is said to have been derived, Aruakgre is a tiny village lying under the territory of an A’king Nokma (Garo traditional chief). The Aruakgre locality presently comprises three other small hamlets viz; Aruak Nokat, Aruak A’simgre and Arauak songgitcham, all lying close to one another. The village locality is bounded in the north by Korepara, in south by Kitmadamgre; and by Gokgolgre and Bekbekgre villages in the east while Tosimpara and Songgitalgre villages forms its western boundaries.

Derik, a beautiful natural stream, originates from Teksagre as its upper course stream, passes through the Aruakgre village. It then joins the Didram (Jinari river) at Bekbekgre near Gokolgre, before it flows down to Goalpara district of Assam. This stream serves as lifeline for the villagers for transportation of hill produces right down to Bajengdoba market and then to Dhubri in Assam.

Very few places in Meghalaya state are bestowed with the life forms like turtle. Aruakgre village is blessed with a very unique ecology where different types of rare Indian turtles are found. Abundant numbers of rare turtles were witnessed by the villagers which now have become endangered. Back then the turtles can be seen taking sunbath in the Derik fresh water stream many years ago as the villager’s witness. There were three different types of rare turtles spotted which are locally known as i) Kising Jaret ii) Kising Jakol iii) Kangkilak Kising. The scene of the turtles taking sunbath could be enjoyed by the villagers back then.  But due to the loss of natural habitat and lack of conservation effort, the natural fresh water habitat starts to degrade leading to the rapid decrease in the population of this rare turtle species. Hence in order to preserve this rare species of turtle in situ and to increase the population of the turtles a proper effort is needed to be put into practice and preserve the ethnic beauty of the village.

Witnessing such activities and their effect against the nature, the villagers of the region formed Village Development Committee mainly with a purpose to safeguard the nature. The village development committee has started to look after the places and living creatures which are under threat and also the endangered creatures and started to protect and preserve them. They have also started to protect the particular part of Derik River where the turtles exist. Due to their selfless effort this particular region is now preserved as the turtle sanctuary providing all needed safety. They have started the in-situ preservation noticing that such activity will provide better habitat fit for their survival and their multiplication. Creation of such sanctuary has led to the development in the entire surrounding as the area is strictly prohibited from any human interference and a penalty has to be paid if anyone is found breaking the law. Such activity has managed to increase the population of the different species of turtles. The area which was once destructed by the human activities has started to regain all its lost glory once again as the area remains undisturbed for several years under the watch of the village defense council.

Since 2009, the people of Aruakgre village started the conservation effort by forming a village Development Committee (VDC). Under this VDC, a subcommittee has also been constituted for Turtle Conservation with Shri. Dingsin R. Marak as Secretary, Shri. Tamil R, Marak as Vice President, along with Shri. Edwin B. Marak as Secretary, the local conservation project titled Riverline sanctuary, the site has been declared on 21st April 2009 as Aquatic and Soft-Shell Turtle Conservation Site. The people have been strictly prohibited to catch any aquatic animals from the prohibited area. People are warned not to use any mechanical/electrical device like generator, poisonous chemical, local herbs like that of Makal (a poisonous root used to stupefy fishes) etc. Anybody found to have violated the regulations adopted and executed by the conservation committee is liable to be paid a fine amounting to Rs.10,000/- (five thousand) and the violator would be legally prosecuted as per wild life protection act, 1972.

Description of the Project:

The Turtle Sanctuary had quite the journey with funding and support! The CLLMP (Community-Led Landscape Management Project) seems to have played a significant role in fostering innovation, particularly at the grassroots level. It’s impressive that the Turtle Sanctuary was selected for the grassroots innovation fund under this scheme. And securing a grant from the World Bank in 2022 have been a significant milestone for the villagers. With that amount, they likely had the resources needed to implement and further develop the sanctuary. It’s great to have initiatives receiving support to make a positive impact on the environment and wildlife conservation.

The wonderful part about the dedication of the villagers in preserving the riverine ecosystem as a turtle sanctuary since 2009. Their commitment to conservation efforts is commendable, especially considering the importance of preserving natural habitats for wildlife like turtles. The involvement of the Villager Development Committee shows a community-driven approach to environmental stewardship, where local residents take ownership of protecting their natural resources. This type of grassroots conservation initiative often yields long-lasting benefits for both wildlife and the communities involved. It’s a testament to the power of local action in preserving biodiversity and promoting sustainable development. 

Plan of Execution of the project:

The proposed project on approval shall be implemented through the services of the members of the village Development Committee of the village concerned with all necessary technical and non-technical advices taken from the concerned implementing department and authorities. A framework of work Plan for execution of the project approved shall be drawn up first and accordingly executed in a just and transparent manner till all resources available for the execution of the project is completed. On completion of the execution of the project plan, the VDC shall continue to take over the site of the project and supervise all maintenance works for sustenance of the Project site.

Design and Implementation of Sanctuary:

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the Derek freshwater stream and surrounding habitat to identify suitable areas for the turtle sanctuary.
  • Design the sanctuary to mimic natural conditions, including food sources, and protection from predators and human disturbances.
  • Implement necessary habitat restoration and enhancement measures to improve the overall ecosystem health and support the survival of endangered turtle species.

Creation of Signboards:

  • Develop visually appealing and informative signboards to be placed in prominent locations within the village and at the sanctuary entrance.
  • Include clear and concise messaging about the importance of turtle conservation and the role of the sanctuary in protecting endangered species and their habitat.
  • Provide information about the different turtle species inhabiting the area and their life cycle, as well as the significance of the ecosystem for biodiversity conservation.

View Point and Toilet Facilities:

  • Design and construct a scenic viewpoint within the sanctuary to offer visitors a panoramic view of the habitat while minimizing disturbance to wildlife.
  • Establish eco-friendly toilet facilities that are accessible to visitors and designed to minimize environmental impact.
  • Ensure that construction materials and techniques prioritize sustainability and minimize ecological footprint.

Awareness Programs:

  • Organize regular awareness programs in the nearby village to educate residents about turtle conservation and the importance of protecting the local ecosystem.
  • Collaborate with local community leaders, schools, and organizations to reach a wider audience and promote community involvement.
  • Incorporate interactive activities and demonstrations, such as turtle releases, guided tours, and beach cleanups, to engage participants and reinforce conservation messages.

Monitoring and Evaluation:

  • Implement a monitoring and evaluation program to assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts and measure the impact of awareness programs.
  • Monitor turtle populations, nesting activities, and habitat conditions to track progress and identify any emerging threats or challenges.
  • Solicit feedback from visitors and community members to continuously improve sanctuary management and visitor experience.
  • By implementing these strategies, the turtle sanctuary can effectively conserve endangered turtle species, raise awareness within the local community, and promote sustainable tourism while protecting the natural environment.

Project Activities:

  • The constructions of the protection wall and road to the turtle sanctuary of the earthwork have been completed as per the last field observation report. It shows that the innovators are making progress towards the goal of protecting the natural habitat of endangered turtles.
  • The protection wall will help to prevent soil erosion, which is important for maintaining the integrity of the habitat. It will also help to protect the turtles and other wildlife in the area by preventing damage to their habitat.
  • The earthwork for the road to the sanctuary has been done and the beautification of the scene has been done by clearing the jungles. The road now provides better access to the area, which is important for efficient monitoring of the habitat and ensuring the protection of the sanctuary.
  • The important to continue monitoring the sanctuary and making improvements as needed to ensure that the turtles and their habitat are protected for generations to come.
  • The sanctuary has the potential to become an eco-tourism. Turtle sanctuaries, in particular, offer an opportunity for visitors to learn about the fascinating creatures and their role in the ecosystem. It’s important to ensure that the sanctuary is well-maintained and follows sustainable practices. This could include measures such as limiting the number of visitors to minimize the impact on the environment, providing eco-friendly accommodations and transportation options, and offering educational tours and activities that promote conservation and environmental awareness.
  • It’s also important to engage with the local community and ensure that they are involved in the development and management of the eco-tourism destination. This can help to promote economic development and provide opportunities for local people to benefit from tourism.
  • Overall, developing a turtle sanctuary into an eco-tourism destination has the potential to promote conservation, support local communities, and provide visitors with a unique and educational experience.

Way forward:

Ensuring the in-situ conservation of the Derek freshwater stream is crucial for safeguarding the natural habitat of endangered turtles. By creating and maintaining suitable conditions within the sanctuary, such as appropriate nesting sites, food sources, and protection from threats, the village development committee is playing a vital role in supporting the turtles’ life cycle activities. It’s heartening to see their dedication to ongoing improvement and betterment, which will undoubtedly contribute to the long-term survival of these important species. Continuous efforts in habitat conservation and management are essential for mitigating the threats faced by endangered turtles and ensuring their populations thrive for generations to come.

The creation of signboards to be designed to be visually appealing and engaging, with clear and concise messaging that conveys the importance of protecting the natural environment. They should include information about the endangered turtle species that inhabit the area, as well as the role that the ecosystem plays in supporting other plant and animal species.

The signboard should be designed to be eye-catching and informative. It should be placed in a prominent location in the village, such as near a community gathering place or on the outskirts of the village, where it can be easily seen by all residents. Creating this signboard within a year of implementation is important to ensure that villagers are educated about the different turtle species that are present in their local environment, and to encourage them to take steps to protect the habitat. 

Indeed, incorporating a viewpoint into the turtle sanctuary project is a brilliant idea to enhance the visitor experience and attract both tourists and locals. A well-designed viewpoint can offer panoramic views of the sanctuary, allowing visitors to appreciate the natural beauty and wildlife within the area, the design and construction of the viewpoint prioritize environmental responsibility and sustainability. This can be achieved through several measures:

Use of Eco-friendly Materials: Opting for sustainable materials such as recycled wood, bamboo, or other renewable resources can minimize environmental impact.

Energy Efficiency: Incorporating energy-efficient features such as solar panels for lighting or passive heating and cooling techniques can reduce the viewpoint’s carbon footprint.

Minimal Disruption: Construction activities should be planned carefully to minimize disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife habitats.

Waste Management: Proper waste management practices should be implemented throughout the construction process, including recycling materials whenever possible and disposing of waste responsibly.

Native Landscaping: Landscaping around the viewpoint should prioritize native plant species, which require less water and maintenance while providing habitat for local wildlife.

By prioritizing sustainability in the design and construction of the viewpoint, the turtle sanctuary can not only enhance its appeal to visitors but also demonstrate a commitment to environmental conservation and responsible tourism.

Conducting awareness programs in the nearby village on a regular basis is a crucial aspect of the turtle sanctuary project. They aim of these programs is to educate the local community about the importance of turtle conservation and the role they can play in protecting these endangered species. The awareness programs can cover a variety of topics related to turtle conservation, including the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem, the threats facing turtles in the wild, and the steps that individuals can take to protect these species. The programs can also include interactive activities and demonstrations, such as turtle releases or beach cleanups, to engage the local community and raise awareness of the issues.

Challenges before the conservation committee:

As has been mentioned at the outset that the villagers are all economically very poor, they lead a simple life of their own and mainly engaged on farming, fishing and collection of hill products. The formation of the Aruakgre VDC helped in generating awareness amongst the local people about the need of protecting and conservation of the disappearing riverine turtle. Inspite of numerous hardships they have been facing as village folk, the meek and humble residents have now well understood the importance of conserving nature, and they have been putting much stress and importance specially on conservation of Riverline Turtle which was once the pride of the locality as no water bodies or stream nearby do possess such aquatic life forms other than that of the Derik fresh water stream. Their concern is now mostly targeting for saving the turtle disappearing turtle species, for their safe growth and population multiplication. Saving life in the nature is saving our life for the future.

The Village development committee Implementing strategies to achieve these goals is crucial for the success of the turtle sanctuary. Here are some potential strategies:

Habitat Protection and Restoration: Ensure the preservation of nesting beaches and feeding grounds by implementing measures to protect and restore coastal habitats. This may include beach clean-ups, dune restoration projects, and the implementation of regulations to limit human disturbance in critical areas.

Conservation Breeding Programs: Establish captive breeding programs for endangered turtle species to boost their populations. This could involve partnering with other conservation organizations or research institutions with expertise in turtle breeding and management.

Community Engagement and Education: Develop educational programs and outreach initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of turtle conservation among local communities, schools, and tourists. This could include school visits, workshops, and guided tours of the sanctuary.

Volunteer and Citizen Science Programs: Recruit volunteers and engage local communities in monitoring turtle nesting activities, collecting data on turtle populations, and assisting with conservation efforts. Citizen science programs can help to gather valuable information while also fostering a sense of stewardship among participants.

Sustainable Tourism Initiatives: Promote responsible and sustainable tourism practices within the sanctuary, such as eco-friendly accommodations, low-impact visitor activities, and guided tours led by trained naturalists. By offering unique and educational experiences, the sanctuary can attract tourists while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

Partnerships and Collaboration: Collaborate with government agencies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and local businesses to leverage resources, share expertise, and coordinate conservation efforts. Building strong partnerships can enhance the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the sanctuary’s conservation programs.

Research and Monitoring: Conduct scientific research to better understand the biology, behavior, and ecology of endangered turtle species, as well as the threats they face. Implement monitoring programs to track population trends, nesting success rates, and the effectiveness of conservation interventions, allowing for adaptive management strategies.

By implementing a holistic approach that combines habitat protection, conservation breeding, community engagement, sustainable tourism, and collaboration with stakeholders, the turtle sanctuary can make significant strides towards conserving endangered turtle species and promoting environmental stewardship within the local community.

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