We all know about the ‘mass nesting’ phenomenon which happens along the beaches of Odisha. Olive Ridley Turtles come back year after year to the beaches of Odisha and lay their eggs in sandy nests.
The Gahirmatha beach, Rushikulya and Devi river mouths of Odisha are renowned as the world’s largest Olive Ridley rookery. 50% of the world population of Olive Ridley sea turtles is endemic to Odisha and 90% of the population of sea turtles along the Indian coastline visit Odisha coast for nesting. This entrusts us with a bigger responsibility of their safety.
However there is a disturbing trend which no one seems to be talking about. Year after year, there has been an on-going decline in the ‘arribada’ (arrival in Spanish) with many Olive Ridleys giving mass nesting a miss. This year itself, the rookery at Rushikulya and various other small rookeries along Odisha coast did not have a chance to greet their regular visitors with the turtles skipping nesting season. Last year, 2.01 lakh Olive Ridley turtles had laid eggs in the rookery around March on the four-km beach stretch from Gokharakuda to Kantiagad. The numbers are alarmingly less compared to the millions of sea turtles which once made it to Odisha’s guest list.
What can be the reason behind this? Simply put, it’s a combination of various factors:
1. Illegal Fishing in the area
While many fell prey to predators, others were hit by fishing trawlers that roam around the area even after a fishing ban. However, there are also a large number of turtles that get caught in the fishing nets by mistake and then die due to strangulation. Despite the Government’s efforts to provide special type of fishing nests which will be safer to use for the Olive Ridleys – the villagers are unable to change their old habits which is taking a toll on the marine life in the region.
2. Erosion and Climate Change
Shortage of space in the beach, coastal erosion and climate change are also playing a major factor in this issue.
3. The Hazards of Plastic & Oil Spills
With the sea becoming a dumping ground of mankind and civilization, plastic is single handedly wiping out marine life. According to Guardian, One refuse truck’s-worth of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute, and the situation is getting worse. The workhorse of our ‘economy’, plastics release toxic chemicals into the oceans that may be digested by turtles and other aquatic animals which further puts them in danger. It is also estimated that by 2050 – there would be more plastic than fish. Oil spills are an ever-present threat. In 2010, some 7,000 litres of oil spilled from a ship at nearby Gopalpur port and blackened Rushikulya sands during hatching season.
4. The Erratic Southern winds and Sporadic Rainfall
Last but not the least, the Southern Winds by which these turtles get attracted were erratic this year. The winds had no direction and velocity. Moreover, rains from February to April have been leaving the beach wet, packing the sand tightly. The Olive Ridley turtles need a dry beach for nesting. These could be one of the reasons that the turtles didn’t arrive this year.
However grim and dark the future may seem to be, there is a ray of hope. Several self help groups have sprouted along the coast lines which are working with Conservation officials and Scientists. Action for Protection of Wild Animals (APOWA) is one such help group. This organisation partners with local communities in the state to help protect and conserve plants and animals in coastal Odisha. Also there are local heroes like Rabindranath Sahu who are doing their part to conserve and protect the turtles in Rushikulya.
Man’s role in fuelling this erratic pattern cannot be underplayed. This environment day there is a dire need to re-evaluate our priorities.
If we do not put serious conservation efforts on top of our list, we would probably not see our 4 legged marine friends ever again.
Image Source: Guardian, few excerpts from HT and DNAIndia & SSCTN.