Nesting of Olive Ridleys unlikely along Orissa coast

BHUBANESWAR FEB. 16. The mass nesting of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles may not take place along the Orissa coast this year primarily due to large scale illegal fishing by mechanised fishing boats at the major turtle congregation sites.

Mass nesting had failed on the State's coast last year too. Although the turtles were seen in large congregations along the coast, they had not come up the shore for laying eggs as their congregations were disturbed at the major nesting sites such as Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary area, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya river mouth.

Apprehending failure of mass nesting for the second consecutive year, local conservationists have squarely blamed the State Government for its failure to prevent fishing within the prohibited zone close to the coast.

Nearly 6,000 Olive Ridleys have been killed along the State's coast this year. Of this, 4,608 had been counted dead outside the Gahirmatha sanctuary limits by the end of January, according to Biswajit Mohanty, project coordinator of Operation Kachhapa.

``This betrays the total lack of commitment by the State Government to protect the Olive Ridleys which are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Except the Gahirmatha area where casualties were limited so far due to sincere efforts of the Forest Department, turtles are being slaughtered at Jatadhar , Devi , Rushikulya and Bahuda river mouths,'' Mr. Mohanty says.

Devi river mouth was witnessing large scale illegal fishing. As many as 70 trawlers were found fishing on the evening of February 7 and around 60 were observed the next evening .

Besides, a new phenomenon seen on the nesting beach of nearly 15 km length between Kadua and Devi river mouths was the massive artificial illumination for shrimp seedling harvesting. While the zero mesh nets used by the fishermen were preventing the turtles from climbing ashore for nesting, the strong lantern lights was also driving away the turtles since they were highly sensitive to light. At this time of the year last season, around 50 turtles nested on this stretch every night, Mr. Mohanty says.

In Gahirmatha area, patrolling for protection of the turtles by the Forest Department has been badly affected after the recent murder of a forest guard by a group of trawler operators. The forest staff lack fast patrol boats to carry out their duties. Moreover, as many as 20 forest guard posts were lying vacant in the Rajnagar Wildlife Mangrove Division leading to acute shortage of field enforcement staff.

Similar was the situation at the Rushikulya river mouth. While illegal fishing by mechanised boats were going on in the area, shrimp seedling catch was also rampant leading to failure of nesting due to strong lights on the beaches and blocking of the beach area by seedling nets.

According to an estimate, around 4 lakh Olive Ridleys nest on the State's beaches every year, with each turtle laying an average of 120 eggs.

The turtle casualty figures are shocking. Nearly 1,00,000 have been counted dead on the Orissa coast during the last decade. Hundreds of mechanised boats operate in the coastal waters where fishing by such crafts is prohibited.

None of these boats use the turtle excluder device (TED), which is mandatory as per the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1982.

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