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Odisha: Olive Ridley sea turtles may skip nesting at Gahirmatha

 

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Olive Ridley, Marine Turtle, Mass Nesting, Arribada, Gahirmatha, Odisha  
 

The mass nesting season is passing out. But the largest known rookery of Olive Ridley sea turtles, the Gahirmatha beach in Odisha, still waits for the marine species to visit en-masse, cover the beach for their nesting activities to offer with the spectacular view of arribada, a Spanish word describing the arrival of turtles, as it happened in the past years. During 20012-13 season, more than two lakh turtles visited the Gahirmatha beach in a single night for nesting.

 

Basudev Mahapatra

 
 

As India is engaged in the general polls, the Olive Ridley sea turtles seem to be out of the attention of everybody except a few forest department officials and activists who are concerned about the conservation and protection of the marine species.

The mass nesting season is passing out. But the largest known rookery of Olive Ridley sea turtles, the Gahirmatha beach in Odisha, still waits for the marine species to visit en-masse, cover the beach for their nesting activities to offer with the spectacular view of arribada, a Spanish word describing the arrival of turtles, as it happened in the past years. During 20012-13 season, more than two lakh turtles visited this beach in a single night for nesting (IOSEA Annual Review of 2013).

 

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,” he added.

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 every year.

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 media, which is too less in compare to lakhs of the species it received in the past years.

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 turtles.

"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.

 
   
 

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