Nesting species: olive ridley
Orissa, bounded by the Bay of Bengal on the east, has a coastline of 480 km, stretching from the West Bengal border in the north to the marshes of Ichhapuram in Andhra Pradesh in the south.
Four species of sea turtles–olive ridley, green, hawksbill and leatherback–have been reported in Orissa, though the nesting of only the olive ridley has been confirmed. There are three recorded mass-nesting beaches in Orissa; Gahirmatha, Rushikulya and Devi river mouth, although mass nesting has not occurred at Devi mouth in the last decade.
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Threats to turtles in Orissa include beach erosion, non-human predation, exploitation for meat and eggs, Casuarina plantations and incidental catch in fishing gear. The local fishing communities do not generally eat turtle meat and eggs due to religious taboos. Mechanised fishing boats are the major cause of mortality as incidental catch, and more than 100,000 dead turtles have been counted along the Orissa coast in the last decade. Construction of fishing jetties and other developmental activities have also adversely impacted the shoreline. Since the 1970s, Casuarina has been planted extensively on the beach front to act as a barrier to and as a shelter belt from cyclones. The plantations adversely affect both sea turtle nesting and hatching as they are planted fairly close to the high tide line. They also provide cover to animals such as jackals and hyenas which predate on sea turtle eggs.
While incidental mortality in trawl fishery poses a direct threat to adult ridleys, coastal development threatens to destroy most nesting habitat. There has been considerable investment in industry and port activities along the Orissa coast in the recent past. The latest, and perhaps most widely debated of such projects is the Dhamra Port, currently being built on the northern bank of the mouth of the river Dhamra, north of the Gahirmatha nesting site. Debates over the impacts that the port will have on the olive ridley population, other marine flora and fauna, and how it would impact local communities and fisherfolk illustrate the complexity of threats that this coast faces.
Sea turtle conservation started in Orissa in the mid-1970s, when Robert Bustard, an FAO consultant, visited Bhitarkanika on a crocodile survey, and discovered the mass nesting beach in Gahirmatha. Over the next two decades, various organisations including the Forest Department, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, and Utkal University were involved in sea turtle research and conservation. Chandrasekhar Kar, of the Forest Department, did his PhD on olive ridley turtles and tagged thousands of nesting turtles. He also discovered the mass nesting beach in Devi mouth.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a large scale take of adult turtles in Orissa (>50,000 turtles per season) for sale for meat in West Bengal. This was followed by conservation efforts of many individuals and organisations, and was eventually reduced and later stopped.
In the 1990s, Bivash Pandav of the Wildlife Institute of India, discovered the mass nesting beach in Rushikulya during a survey, and then carried out his PhD on olive ridleys. He also tagged thousands of nesting females, and for the first time, tagged mating pairs in offshore waters. He subsequently found that the number of turtles being killed in trawl nets had increased and by the late 1990s, nearly 10,000 dead turtles per year were being washed up on the beaches. This drew the attention of conservationists yet again leading to the initiation of Operation Kachhapa.
Since the 2000s, many groups and individuals were involved in the research and conservation of turtles. Read more.
Local groups in Orissa such as the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (Rushikulya) and Sea Turtle Action Program (Devi mouth) have also taken up the cause and become involved and a consortium of groups that could work together on sea turtle related issues called Orissa Marine Resources Conservation Consortium (www.omrcc.org) has also been set up.
At the same time, groups such as World Wild Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, Dakshin, Wildlife Protection Society of India, Wildlife Society of Orissa, etc., have been involved in conservation related issues such as reducing turtle mortality, preventing disorientation due to lighting in Rushikulya, and campaigning against ports in Dhamra.
Projects like Operation Kachhapa and groups like Greenpeace and WWF have in the past focused on enforcement by the government of fishing regulations that prohibit the trawlers from operating within 5 km of the coast (where most of the mating turtles are found). However, it has not been easy to enforce for a variety of reasons. Trawlers are also supposed to use Turtle Excluder Devices, but do not do so for a variety of reasons.
Most recently, the OMRCC has been established to start a dialogue between turtle conservationists and fishermen, so that they could work together wherever possible, as the share many common interests, i.e., safeguarding nearshore areas from trawling and maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Source: Pandav, B., B.C. Choudhury & C.S. Kar. 2006. Sea turtle nesting habitats on the coast of Orissa. In: Marine turtles of the Indian subcontinent (Eds. Shanker, K. & B.C. Choudhury). Pp. 88–106. Universities Press (India) Private Ltd.
Bustard, H.R. 1976. World’s largest sea turtle rookery? Tiger Paper 3(3): 25.
Frazier, J.G. 1980. Sea turtle faces extinction in India: Crying ‘wolf’ or saving sea-turtles? Environmental Conservation 7: 239–240.
Kar, C.S. 1980. The Gahirmatha turtle rookery along the coast of Orissa, India. Marine Turtle Newsletter 15: 2–3.
Kar, C.S. 1982. Discovery of second mass nesting ground of the Pacific olive ridley sea turtles (L. olivacea) in Orissa, India. Tiger Paper 9(1): 6–7.
Kar, C.S. & S. Bhaskar. 1982. Status of sea turtles in the eastern Indian ocean. In: Biology and conservation of sea turtles (Ed. Bjorndal, K.). Pp. 365–372. Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington D.C.
Kar, C.S. & M.C. Dash. 1984. Mass nesting beaches of the olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea (Eschscholtz, 1829) in Orissa and the behavior during an Arribada. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Sea Turtle Conservation (Ed. Silas, E.G.). CMFRI Special Publication 18: 36–48.
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Mrosovsky, N. 2001. Guest editorial: The future of ridley arribadas in Orissa: From triple waste to triple win? Kachhapa 5: 1–3.
Shanker, K., B. Pandav & B.C. Choudhury. 2004. An assessment of the olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting population in Orissa, India. Biological Conservation 115: 149–160.
Shanker, K., J. Rama Devi, B.C. Choudhury, L. Singh & R.K. Aggarwal. 2004. Phylogeography of olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) on the east coast of India: Implications for conservation theory. Molecular Ecology 13: 1899–1909.
Shanker, K. & R. Kutty. 2005. Sailing the flagship fantastic: Myth and reality of sea turtle conservation in India. Maritime Studies 3(2) and 4(1): 213–240.
Pandav, B., B.C. Choudhury & C.S. Kar. 2006. Sea turtle nesting habitats on the coast of Orissa. In: Marine turtles of the Indian subcontinent (Eds. Shanker, K. & B.C. Choudhury). Pp. 88–106. Universities Press (India) Private Ltd.
Shanker, K. 2008. My way or the highway: Where conservationists and corporations meet. Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter 8: 10–14. (and Marine Turtle Newsletter 121: 16–18).
Karnad, D., K. Isvaran, C.S. Kar & K. Shanker. 2009. Lighting the way: Reducing the impact of light on misorientation of olive ridley turtle hatchlings at Rushikulya, India. Biological Conservation 142(10): 2083–2088.
Shanker, K., B.C. Choudhury, A. Fernandes, S. Gopal, A. Hamid, C.S. Kar, S. Kumar, et al. 2009. A little learning…: The price of ignoring politics and history. Marine Turtle Newsletter 124: 3–5.
Action for Protection of Wild Animals, Kendrapara
Green Life Rural Association, Astarang
Maa Ganga Devi Santhi Maitri Yuvak Sang
Orissa Marine Resources Conservation Consortium (OMRCC), Ganjam
Project Swarajya, Cuttack
Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, Rushikulya
Sea Turtle Action Programme, Astarang
Wildlife Society of Orissa, Bhubaneswar
WWF-India – Orissa, Bhubaneswar
Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore
Greenpeace India, Bangalore
Wildlife Protection Society of India, New Delhi