Once known as a safe nesting ground for Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) on the eastern coast of India, Godavari estuary has been witnessing high mortality rate among the species during breeding seasons for the last several years.
Blaming it on the operation of fishing boats in the ecologically sensitive rookery zone along the 30-km coastline in the Godavari estuary which includes the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary and Hope Island, wildlife biologists demand that the movement of the boats should be regulated in the region during the breeding season.
Thousands of Oilve Ridley turtles die after being trapped by the fishing boats, resulting in the sharp fall in their arrival to the rookery zone in the breeding season, they say.
The statistics available with the Forest Department suggest high mortality rate of the turtles. In 2018-19 breeding season, a record number of 89,172 turtle hatchling were released into the sea from the Godavari estuary. However, the 2021-22 breeding season witnessed the release of only 48,274 hatchlings from the five rookeries —Hope Island, G.K.Pora, S. Yanam, Vasalatippa and Sacramento Island—in the estuary.
In 2018-19 breeding season, 1,061 turtles arrived in the Godavari estuary. The number fell to 501 in the 2021-22 breeding season.
Many dead Olive Ridley turtles were washed ashore this year too, says wildlife biologist D. Mahesh Babu.
“All stakeholders including Indian Coast Guard, Forest Department and Fisheries Department should chalk out an action plan to regulate or divert the movements of the fishing boats. It will minimise the mortality of the turtles during the breeding season.”D. Mahesh Babuwildlife biologist
“All stakeholders including Indian Coast Guard (ICG), Forest Department and Fisheries Department should chalk out an action plan to regulate or divert the movements of the fishing boats. It will minimise the mortality of the turtles before they lay eggs,” he says.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change mandates changes in the existing lighting systems in every project situated along the coastline to facilitate safe breeding of the turtles. However, there is no vigilance in this regard during the breeding season at the port and other establishments nearby, he points out.
Biologists say the arrival of the turtles has been delayed this year. it is December 6 and no breeding activities has been seen in the Godavari estuary. “We hope the turtles will arrive in Hope Island for breeding by the December-end or early January,” says Coringa Widlife Ranger S.S.R. Vara Prasad.
Konaseema District Forest Officer M.V. Prasada Rao says that they would set up rookeries at four points —G.K.Pora, S. Yanam, Vasalatippa and Sacramento Island.