Carcasses of Olive Ridley turtles are washing ashore on beaches here, indicating that the breeding cycle of the endangered species has been dealt a severe blow this year by mechanised fishing boats.
As these fishing boats scour the Bay of Bengal coastline, there is gloom among conservationists and forest department officials that this year will be bad for the turtles.
Though the egg laying has not yet begun, personnel from the wildlife wing of the Forest department have spotted 54 carcasses on the shores of Hope Island in just one month. “In the entire six-month season last year, we spotted 152 carcasses. But this year the numbers seem to be on the rise,” A. Sunil Kumar, Forest Range Officer said.
The turtles, which are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, commence their journey from the Indian Ocean during their mating season in October and November. When they reach the Bay of Bengal, the females lay eggs on the beaches. Even as the destination for a majority is Gahirmatha in Odisha, the sandy stretches of Hope Island of the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary have turned into a breeding area for a few hundred turtles every year.
A female lays 100 to 150 eggs in a pit dug by it carefully and leaves the shore after covering the hollow with sand. Six weeks later, the newly hatched turtles start the journey to their Indian Ocean habitat. Records show 482 turtles laid eggs here in the last year.
“Owners of mechanised boats are not taking precautions to protect the turtles. Most of them are crushed under the boats and succumb to injuries,” said K. Thulsi Rao, State project coordinator of the EGREE Foundation that works to conserve flora and fauna in the sanctuary.
The Fisheries Department tried to encourage the mechanised boat owners to fit a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to their trawl nets to allow the animals to pass, 10 years ago. Of the 422 boats, few have opted for the device due to lack of sensitisation. “The device is not available in the open market,” said S. Angeli, Deputy Director of the Fisheries department.