Published: Tuesday 15 December 1998

The world's largest rookery in Gahirmatha, Orissa, has not witnessed mass nesting of Olive Ridley Turtles for the last two years. The coast once again wafts for the turtle boards with the nesting season in December. This year, between January and May, over 15,000 turtles were killed by fishing trawlers. Environmentalists and the state's forest department squarely blamed the killing for failure of mass nesting (Down To Earth, Vol 7, No 2).

While the forest department is discussing ways to protect the turtles with the Indian Coast Guard, turtle conservationists are discounting the efforts as'routine and ineffective'. A high-level committee, headed by chief minister I B Patuaik, declared use of turtle excluder device (TED) by the trawlers compulsory. The fisheries department, however, is yet to implement the order. It has cited reduction in shrimp yield for its inaction on the issue. Meanwhile, the Union ministry of environment and forest declared the nesting beach of Gehirmatha, a turtle reserve, but no follow up of the declaration has been made. Six months have passed and the committee set up to implement this decision is yet to meet, officially at the ministry of external affairs, say that the proposal is on paper and no fund has been earmarked fill now.

"We can only depend on the coast guard to check trawlers, nothing else", says S K Patnaik, the conservator of forest (wildlife), Orissa. Similarly, Priyambada Hejmadi, an internationalty-recognised sea turtle expert, says, "Efforts are not sufficient. if the turtles come, chances are that they would be killed. We can hope for the best." Researchers from the forest department and Wildlife Institute of India are already camping in the coast, but there is no sign of the turtles moving towards the Orissa coast "Its early to predict. But going by the experience of the last two years, it is debatable, says C S Kar who has been working at Ridleys since the mid 70s.

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