Thousands of hatchlings are coming out of the nests buried under sand on this coast to venture into the sea. The Rushikulya rookery coast in Ganjam district of Odisha is a major nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles in India. This year, over 3,85,000 turtles reached the coast to lay eggs. Each nest contains around 100 eggs. This means over three crore hatchlings are expected to come out of the nests. On an average, 80 hatchlings come out of each nest.
“As the rate of mortality among the hatchlings is high, the Olive Ridley remains an endangered species,” Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ashis Behera said.
Forest range officer Dilip Kumar Martha said the eggs in a small number of nests had started hatching on April 2. The process picked up on the night of April 7 and is expected to last for the next five days. This year, hatching was delayed by a few days because of the rains on the night of April 2. Rains reduce sand temperature and slow down incubation.
Bivash Pandav, a scientist of the Wildlife Institute of India, pointed to an interesting fact. The young ones come out of the sand 48 hours after they hatch. During this period, they remain under the sand, getting oxygen through the porous sand cover, their outer shells turning hard for them to cope with the condition outside.
This is the reason the Forest Department bars tourists from the region where mass nesting occurs, said Mr. Behera.
The hatchlings come out of the nests at the dead of night or in early morning and move towards the sea. As they are sensitive to light, they stray to the land sometimes, attracted by the glare of electric lights. Hence, the Forest Department has asked the local body of the nearby Ganjam town and the plant of Jayashree Chemicals Limited (JCL) to switch off major lights after 9 p.m. until the hatching is over.
Some of the hatchlings straying to the land get caught in the nets on the coast, from Gokharkuda to Podampeta. They are collected by volunteers and Forest Department officials and released in the sea. Visitors also volunteer to do this work.
On April 7, students of the Delhi Public School of New Town in Kolkata reached this coast to witness the hatching and they helped to save the straying hatchlings, said Rabindranath Sahu of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, an organisation of residents of villages near the rookery, involved in the protection of turtles for generations because of religious beliefs.