The site was discovered by
famous wildlife expert H Robert Bustard in the year 1976.
Even though the turtles have
skipped nesting on the beach several times in the past, this year’s case
is different because the species have visited the nearby sea for mating.
The congregation is still there. But the turtles are not coming to the
beach for nesting.
“Huge numbers of female turtles are still
in the mouth and the nearby sea. But the event of mass nesting,” the
annual activity that places Gahirmatha in the international wildlife
map, “has not yet taken place,” said the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO)
Kedar Kumar Swain of Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division.
However, “sporadic cases of nesting are
seen along the coasts and, by now, about thousand turtles have nested,”
The marine turtles start coming to the sea
close to the river mouths during October-November for mating. The annual
event of mass nesting usually takes place between January and March
The delay, this time, in mass nesting has
been a reason of worry for the wildlife conservationists and officials
of the concerned government department. The apprehension is that the
turtles may skip their annual activity on the beach.
To experts and activists, Geographical
changes because of rapid erosion in the particular coast are, perhaps,
the reasons of such delay.
“Erosion at an alarming scale is the
biggest threat as the beach that hosts mass nesting of turtles gets
squeezed every year. If the trend continues, the turtles may have no
other option but to abandon the beaches and look for other
destinations,” said Jivan Das of People for Animal, a leading animal
welfare body of India.
In order to offer a peaceful atmosphere to
the marine visitors for their mating and nesting activities, the
provincial government of Odisha has imposed ban on fishing in the river
mouth and within 20 kilometres of the coast. The ban remains in effect
from November 1, 2013, till the end of May 31, 2014.
Even though the ban is imposed and the
wildlife department claims to have taken all measures to ensure safe and
peaceful nesting, “the turtles are troubled due to frequent and illegal
movement of trawlers in the prohibited area,” said a local volunteer.
Regular missile tests by the Indian
Defence Ministry’s DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation)
during the turtle breeding season are also believed to be another factor
to dissuade the turtles from coming to the beach for nesting.
“Despite requests from the Odisha
government to the DRDO to restrain from testing missiles during the
turtle breeding seasons, test fires are conducted. This seems to be an
act of irresponsibility from the DRDO,” said Biswajit Mohanty, known
turtle conservator and a noted wildlife activist.
From November 2013 till date, at least
four tests have been carried out by DRDO at Wheeler Island, which is
close to the turtle nesting site. The last one of the tests took place
on April 11, 2014, in the night.
As per reports, DRDO has plans to carry
out more than a dozen such tests in next 45 days, very much during the
turtle breeding season which extends upto May 31.
Apart from rapid coastal erosion and
DRDO’s frequent missile tests, the regular activities of Dhamra Port are
doubted to be further disturbing to the turtles. Negative impact of the
port on annual activities of turtles was apprehended since planning of
the Port on Dhamra River mouth for which project works were delayed for
about a decade.
Referring to the fact that the mass
nesting has occurred in the later part of April many years in the past,
the wildlife officials hope that mass nesting may take place this year
too during the same period.
“We expect it to happen any day as the
beach condition is quite conducive for nesting activity of the turtles,”
said DFO Swain adding that “no prediction, however, works in case of
such a natural phenomenon. We can only hope.”
The eastern coast of India has two other
rookeries, one at Rushikulya River mouth and the other at Devi River
mouth, both in the state of Odisha. They too are threatened by the
phenomenon of coastal erosion and increasing human activities. While
Devi river mouth has been deprived of hosting arribada since about a
decade, Rushikulya river mouth received around 60000 turtles this season,
as said by the Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer S S Mishra to the
which is too less in compare to lakhs of the species it received in the
About seven lakh Olive Ridley turtles
visited the nesting beaches of Odisha during 2012-13 season of which
beaches close to Rushikulya mouth received about three lakh marine
"This year we've seen one of the lowest
number of turtles nesting anywhere along the Odisha coast. While it may
be premature to ascribe the reasons to anything specific at this stage,
we must remember that turtles are among the best indicators of the
condition of our coasts and beaches. Beach erosion is already severe in
Odisha and any new ports shall only hasten it severely,” said Aditya
Panda, a wildlife conservationist.