Millions of Olive Ridley turtles crawl towards sea along Odisha coast

Forest department and green activists believe that record numbers of hatchlings might have emerged, made their way to sea

April 22, 2023 02:21 am | Updated 06:57 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Baby turtles crawl to enter into the Bay of Bengal Sea at the Rushikulya river mouth beach at Podampeta in Odisha.

Baby turtles crawl to enter into the Bay of Bengal Sea at the Rushikulya river mouth beach at Podampeta in Odisha. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Millions of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles crawled towards the Bay of Bengal after emerging from eggshells along Odisha’s Rushikulyabeach in Ganjam district, recording one of the most successful mass nesting and hatchings in past few decades.

This year, the Rushikulya beach has hosted 6.37 lakh turtles — highest ever congregation — due to favourable weather conditions from February 23 to March 3. Usually mass nesting takes place for three to four days. However, turtles had come to lay their eggs over a period of nine days this year. After laying eggs, they had disappeared into the sea.

After 50 days, baby turtles have emerged from eggs themselves, without mother turtles and started their journey towards unknown destination using vast sea water route.

“This year, mass nesting and hatching have been smooth. There was no adverse weather condition that could have hampered the nesting and hatching processes. On part of the forest department, we have provided best possible protection for turtles to lay eggs and prevent damage of eggs during their incubation period,” said Sunny Khokkar, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer.

Generally, an Olive Ridley turtle lays 100-150 eggs in a cavity created by them with their front flippers. They scoop out sand for hours to create the void. After laying eggs at one go, these creatures cover it again with sand. Before sunrise, the turtles return to the sea, leaving behind the eggs to hatch after 40-60 days. Sometime, a turtle lays eggs in a pit at a place which was previously used by another turtle, leading to loss of thousands of eggs.

The Rushikulya beach is a unique phenomenon, which is not a wildlife sanctuary, yet turtles feel safe to carry out mass nesting. Baby turtles started coming out from egg shells from the second week of April this year.

“Residents of nearby villages such as Purunabandh, Gokharkud and Padampeta under Panibandh panchayat treat turtles as their guests. Baby turtles, those who travel in the opposite direction of the sea, are helped by villagers to find their way to sea water,” said Rabindra Nath Sahu, Secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee.

Mr. Sahu said a record number of hatchlings might have entered the sea this year as 6.37 lakh turtles had laid eggs. “The forest department and villagers kept close a watch on hatching so that dogs, hyenas and other natural predators cannot destroy eggs and hatchlings,” he said.

However, Mr. Sahu pointed out that, “high power lights used by an industry nearby, and Huma and Ganjam towns disorient baby turtles. Instead of going towards the sea, they move towards villages. There must be some sort of regulation about usage of high power street lights.”

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