The smallest of sea turtles found in the world, the Olive Ridleys have their largest rookery in India but are facing a constant threat – the forest department is alarmed now.
Every year, the Olive Ridley sea turtles flock the Ganjam Coast on the eastern Indian state of Odisha. Found in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, the mass nesting of these turtles is a USP for the state’s tourism business but is calling for a watch.
Around 175 turtles were found dead on the 40-kilometres-long Ganjam coast in 2015-16, and 153 in 2016-17, a senior forest official said.
An endangered species, the annual gathering of the Olive Ridley sea turtles is going to be protected by forest officials, who have launched a drive to sensitise fishermen to adopt measures to ensure safety.
Experts say most of the deaths of the turtles are caused by fishing trawlers, and hence the step taken is necessary.
Each season, the state government imposes a ban on the use of mechanised trawlers, which set out fishing on the 170 kilometre coast.
From the third week of October to the first week of November is when the Olive Ridley sea turtles start arriving for mass nesting from the mouth of Rushikulya river in the Ganjam district. This is the period when fishing trawlers cannot enter the 20-kilometre ‘no Fishing Zone’.
“We will take stringent action against trawlers found violating the prohibition when it comes into force,” said A K Behera, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Berhampur. The fisheries department and forest officials will jointly conduct patrolling to crackdown on illegal fishing activities in the area, he added.
The department has two-speed boats, and at least two trawlers would be hired for patrolling. However, the Odisha traditional fish workers’ union has urged authorities not to impose the restriction on fishing with motorised boats, as it does not harm the turtles. “We also urged the authorities to compensate the loss of livelihood due to the ban on fishing activities,” said its union secretary, K Alleya.
The forest department is also seeking the cooperation of wildlife activists, local NGOs, local industries and Gopalpur Port authorities. Hundreds and thousands of the sea turtles visit Gokharkuda-Purunabandh Ganjam district.
This year, between February 14 and 22, over 370,000 Olive Ridley turtles laid eggs near the Rushikulya river.
The Rushikulya and Devi river mouths of Odisha, along with the Gahirmatha beach are famous as the world’s largest Olive Ridley rookery.