For Olive Ridleys, it’s paradise lost

Thousands of eggs in Gahirmatha perish as nesting turtles crowd shrunken beach

March 04, 2017 03:38 am | Updated 03:38 am IST - BHUBANESWAR

The survivors: Volunteers release Olive Ridley hatchlings in Visakhapatnam on Friday.

The survivors: Volunteers release Olive Ridley hatchlings in Visakhapatnam on Friday.

Tens of thousands of eggs laid by Olive Ridley sea turtles this year in Gahirmatha Sanctuary in Odisha, one of the world’s largest nesting grounds, are getting destroyed due to shrinking coastal space.

The ongoing mass nesting of the endangered animals has enthused conservationists, but habitat decline is undoing the gains.

The Odisha Forest and Environment Department estimates that 6,04,046 turtles have come to lay eggs at Nasi II island of Gahirmatha from February 22. The turtles had largely given the island a miss in 2016, with only 50,000 coming to nest.

Since the small island could not host all those that turned up this year, only 50% of eggs may survive.

A female sea turtle scoops beach sand out to lay 80 to 120 eggs, but its effort is undone when a second digs at the same place to lay its own. This season, turtles are estimated to have laid close to 60 million eggs along a 1,000-metre beach of Nasi II.

“Wildlife staff have observed mass nesting for a month. Since only 1,000 metres is now suitable at Nasi II, there is not enough space. Of 100 turtles, eggs of only 50 survive,” Subrat Patra, Range Officer, Gahirmatha Sanctuary, told The Hindu over phone.

Two bigger beaches with 200 hectares and 50 hectares at Ekakula Nasi and Nasi I island drew a mere 12 and 100 Olive Ridleys respectively.

Pale shadow

Gahirmatha once had 32 km of beach and nesting area of 1,80,000 square metres. Research by B.C. Choudhury, former scientist, Wildlife Institute of India, showed that Nasi I and Nasi II had fragmented.

Chief Wildlife Warden Sidhant Das said, “there is attrition, but there are also times when submerged portions got exposed again.”

In the Visakhapatnam region, the Forest Department recorded 447 nests with 47,000 eggs, the highest so far.

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