Olive Ridley turtles give Gahirmatha beach a miss this year

Last year, around 400,000 turtles had nested at the beach in Bhitarkanika National Park during four-day arribada in March

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 25 April 2014

The Gahirmatha beach is the biggest nesting ground of Olive Ridley turtles in the world. They mate in the sea and arrive in droves for mass nesting, called arribada (Photos by ashis senapati)

The endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have skipped returning to their largest and most important rookery in the world—the Gahiramatha beach in Odisha's Kendrapada district—this year.

The failure of turtles turn up for the annual arribada or mass nesting has baffled forest officials and turtle researchers. Around 25,000 turtles laid eggs in Rushikulya beach of Ganjam district on February 10 and 11. But they did not turn up for arribada or mass nesting at Gahiramatha, say officials.

The turtles had skipped mass nesting at the beach in 2002 and 2008 also.

“Each year, turtles lay eggs in large numbers at Gahirmatha after two weeks of the mass-nesting at Rushikulya. Large numbers of turtles congregated in the sea near Gahiramatha till the last week of March, but the turtles did not arrive at the beach, because of which we missed the spectacular event of mass-nesting, this year,” said Kedar Kumar Swain, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Bhitarkanika National Park. The Olive Ridleys mate offshore and nest on the beaches between December and March.

More on Olive Ridleys' nesting along beaches of Odisha

Nowhere to nest
Lightmare on Olive Ridley street

Last year, around 400,000 turtles had nested at Gahiramatha between March 18 and 21. “It is quite difficult to give the exact reason for the non-arrival of turtles in 2002, 2008 and 2014. But beach erosion, bright light from the missile test range at the Wheelers’ Island  near Gahiramatha, bad weather and illegal fishing  are important reasons,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of non-profit Wildlife Society of Orissa.

The gory reason

Forest officials say they counted as many as 800 carcasses between Gahiramatha and the Devi river mouth recently

A major reason this year seems to be illegal fishing. Swain said that armed fisher people attacked two patrolling vessels engaged in turtle protection drive on January 12. “In self-defence, forest guards opened fire and gunned down a fisher person. After this incident, fearing retaliation, security forces refused to patrol the sea. They wanted the presence of an executive magistrate because of which patrolling was halted for three weeks,” he said.

In the absence of patrolling, many trawlers illegally operated in the marine sanctuary areas. Many turtles were killed after they got entangled in the fishing nets and gears. “We counted carcasses of around 800 turtles between Gahiramatha and Devi river mouth recently,” the DFO said. Turtles need calm and undisturbed sea to congregate in large numbers, he added.

Fishing near Gahiramatha beach is banned from November 1 to May 31, 20 km from the coast in the marine sanctuary. From the time of enforcement of fishing ban from November 1 last year, 150 marine fishers have so far been taken into custody and 32 fishing crafts have been seized for unlawful fishing activity, added the forest officer.

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court-constituted Central Empowered Committee (CEC) had directed the government to protect turtles with the help of armed forces and to compensate fishers during the ban period. In 1997, the government declared Gahiramatha as a marine sanctuary to protect the turtles.

The ban on fishing continues to be a livelihood issue for fishers. “Large number of marine fishers have been demanding alternative source of livelihood during the ban and adequate compensation for the losses they have incurred due to the ban. There exists a clause in the CEC's directives, which says that there should be an alternate source of income before fishing ban is imposed upon the fishermen,” said Sudhanshu Parida, an environmentalist and the secretary of the district unit of Peoples for Animal (PFA).

Swain claimed the government under its Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) programme has been providing alternative livelihoods to the fishers.


Feature: Olive Ridley project: Actively fighting ghost nets in the Indian Ocean

Feature: Solitary nesting and mortality of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles along the Ganjam Coast of Odisha, India

Feature: Occurrence of olive ridley solitary nests and their future conservation implications in Gahirmatha rookery, Odisha
Report: Vulnerable Olive Ridley turtles find diverse support in Orissa, India

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