such huge number of deaths of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles across the
coastline of Orissa bother wildlife lovers and organisations working for
the protection of endangered species, government departments and a few
agencies working in the areas of nature conservation and wildlife
protection in Orissa are not so much bothered about it saying that the
toll is hardly one to two percent of the total Olive Ridley population
that visit the three nesting grounds on the coasts of Orissa.
turtles visit three places on Orissa Coast – the Dhamra River Mouth at
Gahirmatha, Devi River Mouth at Astarang and the Rusikulya River Mouth.
It’s because of the sand grain size that enables the turtles dig a whole
in the sands to lay eggs inside and habitat suitability with variety of
micro-organism, thick mangrove to generate feed for lakhs of adult
turtles and millions of their hatchlings that Olive Ridley turtles in
such large numbers visit the coasts of Orissa for mating and mass
nesting. Orissa is quite fortunate to have three such places that have
become mass nesting destinations for the marine turtles. However, of
course, many of the turtles die while on their journey to the nesting
sites or during the time of mating in the Sea’, said Dr. Chandra Sekhar
Kar, Wildlife Scientist of Orissa Forest and Wildlife Department.
total population that visit the coasts for mass nesting is the
population of female turtles which is between 2.5 – 3.5 lakhs every
year. Adding the male population of the marine species that include the
groups migrating to the coasts of Orissa as 60% of the female turtles,
the number would go beyond five lakhs. In the course, many of the
visiting turtles die in the Sea for different reasons. A few of the
adult turtles would be dying a natural death, some by falling prey to
predators in the sea and it’s also true that many of them die in the
trap of the trawler nets and gill nets. If you see the total number of
deaths in one season, it’s between one to two percent’, says Michael
Peter, the State Director of WWF.
Olive Ridley Sea turtle has been declared an endangered species, such a
huge number of deaths every year make a reason for world wide concern.
As per a fact sheet released in 2009 by Wildlife Institute of India on
request and with support from IUCN under the title ‘Biological and
Behavioural Aspects of Olive Ridley Turtles along the Orissa Coast of
India’, the annual turtle mortality was over 10000 during mid-nineties.
‘With over 100,000 turtles, all breeding adults, reported killed in the
last decade along the Orissa coast, there are reports of a decline of
large sized turtles in the population. A decrease in size of the nesting
females observed over the years is thought to indicate the removal of
the older population’, says the WII fact sheet.
non-government sources the mortality is still over 6000 a year along
Orissa Coasts even after a number of awareness drives and safety
measures as claimed by the concerned departments of Orissa Government.
the turtles are not safe in the sea, the fishing communities living
around the nesting sites have been the worst victims of whatever safety
measures taken by the government.
fishing in the sea is banned during the peak fishing season in the name
of turtle safety, thousands of fishermen families turn jobless for more
than six months and face serious livelihood problems. So far, the
government has not done any thing to resolve their livelihood related
issues. Finding no other options to earn a livelihood for the families,
many of the fishermen have committed suicide.
fact is that traditional fishermen consider turtles as an incarnation of
god and worship them. They neither consume turtle eggs nor its meat. In
fact, the Shrimp trawlers owned by large business houses and influential
people like politicians or politically affiliated ones are the major
culprits but flout the rules continuously.
Whatever steps government has taken for the safety of turtles are
definitely not sufficient as the dead shells are being washed ashore in
huge numbers every season. On the other hand, the innocent fishing
communities are suffering for government’s short term measures.
order to save the turtles and offer them with a peaceful coast for their
mating and nesting, the local communities should be involved in turtle
safety activities and their livelihood issues are to be taken seriously.
safety of these marine turtles is something to be looked at very
seriously, Orissa Government’s plan for about thirteen new ports along
the coast line would endanger the species further as thirteen new ports
are planned over sites at a close proximity to the turtle mass nesting
the thirteen points mapped to develop new port infrastructure, Orissa
Government has already signed concession agreement for two ports and
another three have crossed the MoU stage. Out of these five new ports
that are expected to come in first two phases, sites of three are
located at a close distance from the turtle mass nesting sites and,
certainly, many of these ports are going to use the turtle movement
track as their ship movement channel.
really concerned about so many of the ports that are being permitted to
along the coast. There will be definitely some impacts on the Olive
Ridley Sea Turtles. In order to minimise the impact of these
infrastructure on the coastal ecology, we are discussing
with the Government of Orissa and we hope for some kind of solution
at the earliest’, says WWF State Director Michel Peter.
largest among all new ports planned in Orissa is the Port on the Dhamra
Mouth that is about to become operative soon. Built and to be managed by
Dhamra Port Company Ltd (DPCL) – a subsidiary of TATA Group, Dhamra port
is located at an aerial distance of about 15 KM from the noted turtle
nesting site at Gahirmatha. Even though the Forest and environment
department has said in its report that the port is not going to deter
the turtles from nesting at their usual site, local people and
environment experts say that the river mouth that is to be used by the
port as the main channel happens to be the route for turtle movement to
and from Gahirmatha. And, many of the environment experts believe that
once the port becomes operative, there would be a kind of underwater
vibration during the ship movement which may detract or deter the
turtles from coming to the nesting site. If it happens, Gahirmatha would
be abandoned by the turtles for nesting activities.
major issues to come up with such number of ports along the coast line
of Orissa are pollution and change in the coastal eco-system. However,
the scale of impact has to be measured and there is also a common
tendency in all living beings of adaptation to changes. If the turtles
get adapted to the activities that is going to start with the port goes
operational then they would come and nest. Otherwise, they may abandon
the coast. The possibility of the coast being abandoned is there because
they turtles look for a peaceful zone for there mating and nesting. May
be this is the reason why they visit Orissa in such huge numbers for
their mating and nesting activities’, says Rahas Bihari Panda,
Environment Scientist and Associate Professor in the Department of
Environment Science at Fakir Mohan University.
other ports that would also affect the annual activities of the
turtles are the ports planned at Astarang, Gopalpur and the Other at Chudamani
near Basudevpur. While Basudevpur Port is a minor port at a few
Kilometers from the Dhamra Port, the other Port to be built at Astaranga
is planned on the mouth of Devi River where lakhs of turtle visit every
year to mate and nest. Devi River mouth is also known as the movement
track of bottle-nose dolphins who often visit the mouth in groups.
ecological changes that is to happen once the port at Astarang is built
and goes operative would not only affect the turtle breeding space in
the sea and on the beach but it also would cause damage to the dolphin
population that use the river mouth as roaming zone.
mass nesting site at Rushikulya River mouth is going face the worst
impacts of Gopalpur port and the green port planned at Palur. While the
port would come up just before the turtle movement track, 'the pollution
and possible ecological impacts of the port would make the coast
unsuitable for breeding. The primary issues with the visiting marine
turtles would be getting a peaceful ground and the usual feed during
breeding time. And, the worst impact would be that the port would
accelerate the process of erosion of the coast', says Biswajit Mohanty,
leading wildlife activist and member of National Wildlife Board, India.
erosion is again another issue in Astarang where Bay of Bengal has
already submerged over 5 KM of human habitations in last 30 years. A
port on Devi River mouth would help further and fast erosion.
ports can’t also go for plantation along the coast to minimise the
impact of pollution or recreate the mangrove destroyed during building
of the port infrastructure because its impact would be more fatal to the
turtles. ‘Though the Orissa coast is famously known for the three mass
nesting sites, Olive Ridley turtles sporadically nest all along the
coastline. A choice for such sporadic nest sites by turtles may be
involved which is not clearly known. And, with extensive planting of
Casuarinas trees all along the coast, there may not be suitable
beaches for turtles to nest sporadically. The Devi rookery is reported
to have lost prime turtle nesting beach due to plantation
activities…There is an additional problem in case of the sporadic nests
and that is related to predation. Nearly 95% of the sporadic nests
recorded along a 25 km coastline along the Rushikulya rookery in 2007
nesting season were observed predated by feral dogs and jackals. It is
believed that the dense Casuarinas plantations support high predator
numbers’, says the WII fact sheet on turtle behaviour and activities.
for the development of the state and its people, Orissa needs ports and
they should come up. However, it’s a fact that Ports and its activities
will definitely have some impact on the coastal eco-system. So, there
must be proper studies undertaken and steps taken by the government to
minimise the impact of such infrastructure on the plants, living beings
and the total ecosystem’, says Environment Scientist Rahas Bihari Panda.
Now the question is can we, and should we, spare the marine turtle mass
nesting beaches for the ports to come up? Such a desire would help bring
some revenue to the state and make a few corporate houses thrive on the
coasts of Orissa, but the state is going to be blamed globally for being
failed to protect the breeding habitats of the endangered marine turtle
species. If the state wants to have the both, it must rework on the plan
of development through ports. And, there must be more studies undertaken
to ensure minimum impact of such infrastructures on the coastal
ecosystem so that the rare marine turtles will not be deprived of the
space to mate and nest at their place of choice. Otherwise, in a few
years, the tradition of mass nesting by Olive Ridley Sea Turtles would
be a history for the state of Orissa.
Jerry Berne, Sustainable Shorelines, Inc. (www.sustainableshorelines.org)
You are quite right to be concerned about the coastal
environmental damaged caused by port construction. This is especially
true of the dredging involved for its immediate pollution caused by its
spoils and for its long-term erosion of the coastline.
Also of concern is the proposed embankment to
"protect" some areas of Orissa's coastline. Building a saline
embankment to "protect" Orissa's coastline is needlessly expensive
and potentially counterproductive typically causing more erosion by
redirecting and accelerating current/wave energies. This is
especially true if the fill for this embankment is dredged from the
nearshore. Where ever the fill comes from, such a structure is
going to have a negative environmental impact.
We do have proven methods of mitigating the
erosion caused by navigational dredging (and that caused by beach
"nourishment" --in truth, a starvation diet-- programs which also
profit the dredging industry) and traditionally engineered methods.
The best documented of these is Holmberg Technologies (www.erosion.com).
Holmberg's passive, permanent systems are shown to be successful,
environmentally sound and sustainable. Holmberg's work is shown to
both widen and elevate the shoreline, important attributes as sea
Earlier this year, I was asked to write an
article on Mediterranean sea turtles for the Green Prophet website
as a follow-up to my earlier interview (http://www.greenprophet.com/2010/03/05/18210/coastal-erosion-gulf/).
I differed as I am not an expert on turtles. I do know a little on
what is happening to our coastal habitats, however, and --thanks to
the dredging, coastal engineering and development industries-- the
news is not good. As I continue to state, we are losing habitat,
not just expensive real estate.
Of course, it is not just certain industries at
fault. We are all contributing to climate change. This is going to
cause severe disruption of our coastal communities --both natural
and manmade-- through sea level rise and increased storm
intensities. Our protective natural shoreline features are already
weakened by manmade activities with dredging seemingly the most
harmful of these. As such we --both individuals and governments--
must adopt successful mitigation strategies immediately. In the
1960's, a new dam constructed in the Amazon jungles threatened to
drown all the animals trapped behind it. Wildlife professionals,
attempting to relocate as many of these animals as they could, sent
out a plea for help to their associates around the world, "Time is
short and the water rises." Now, with global warming, time is
short again and the water rises for all of us.