Since decades “Olive Ridley” turtles have been visiting the coastline of Orissa to lay their eggs, - an honor bestowed to us by nature but growing industrialization, illegal fishing has resulted in converting our pristine beaches into a deadly battlefield for these poor guests. Hundreds of these turtles are found dead around the coast- once considered a safe haven for their nesting.
Orissa supports the Olive Ridley’s three most important breeding beaches – Gahirmatha in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Kendrapada district, the mouth of the river Rushikulya, Ganjam district and the mouth of the river Devi, Puri district which are witness to the arribada year after year. Almost half a million turtles nest here annually, between December and March
From 1975 onwards Gahirmatha has supported the largest reported arribadas which range from a 100 – 700,000 nesting turtles every year. Recent genetic studies suggest that these Olive Ridleys that nest in Orissa and India’s east coast are distinct from other ridleys and could even be the ancestors to populations in other ocean basins.
The beaches of Orissa provide one of the last nesting grounds of the Olive Ridley turtles in the world. Commercial trawling has been shown to disrupt and kill Olive Ridleys in India . The turtles are caught in the trawler's nets being dragged far behind the boats. Unable to surface, the turtles suffocate and drown.
These lightly-built turtles have an average weight just up to 50 kg. They have a high-domed shell, with a carapace length of only 27 inches, usually found in the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic ocean .
Olive Ridleys are omnivorous, feeding on crabs, shrimp, rock lobsters, sea grasses, algae, snails, fish, sessile, pelagic tunocates and small invertebrates. They are sometimes seen feeding on jellyfish in shallow waters. These turtles forage offshore in surface waters and can dive to depths of at least 500 feet.
An Olive Ridley on an average lays 120 to 150 eggs, from which hatchlings emerge after 45 to 50 days. However, many of these eggs are lost due to dogs, jackals, wild boar, eagles or gulls, or are simply washed off. Studies have indicated that only one out of every 1,000 eggs lay ultimately produce an adult Olive Ridley turtle.
Dhamra port Vs. Olive Ridley Conservation
Dhamra port is now being built in proximity to the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. The location of the port also runs contrary to a 2002 directive of the Ministry of Environment, based on the government of India's National Wildlife Action Plan, that a radius of 10 km. from all existing parks and sanctuaries be declared 'eco-sensitive areas' and large-scale industrial development be kept away from these areas. Between 200,000 and 500,000 female turtles nest here every year. The planned port facility will be located just north of the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and less than five kilometres from the boundaries of the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, which have the second largest mangrove forest in India.
The port and its attendant infrastructure, accompanying industrial and residential development, artificial lighting and the shipping traffic it will attract are only some of the problems it poses for the turtles and their hatchlings. A serious threat will also be posed by the amount of dredging required to create and maintain the shipping channels at the necessary depth (over 60 million cu. m. of capital dredging initially and a further 2.2 million cu.m. of maintenance dredging annually). The development of the port will also lead to an industrialisation spree in the area, with the attendant hazards posed by an increased population, lighting, pollution etc. While the Dhamra port site itself is not a nesting ground, the coastal waters are turtle habitat and there are many reports of turtle sightings in the area during the turtle season.
Can we dream of a day when we can see the turtles swimming freely in the sea and there will be no carcass littered on the beach of Orissa? Will the dream ever come true?