Turtle graveyard

Mass turtle deaths have become an annual feature on the Orissa coast

Published: Wednesday 28 February 2001

Turtle trails: illegal machani (Credit: CSE)the Orissa coast, between Paradip and Jatadhar has been littered with thousands of dead Olive Ridley sea turtles. Dead turtles have also been found on the stretch between Harishpur and Devi river mouth, said Biswajit Mohanty, project coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, a conservation programme launched to save the turtles.

For over one decade, the population of the Olive Ridley sea turtles has come under severe pressure from illegal mechanised trawling. Last year, more than 20,000 sea turtles were killed due to illegal mechanised trawling in prohibited areas.

The world famous Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, that attracts hundreds of thousands of sea turtles every year, is the largest nesting ground in the world for this endangered marine species. Due to unrestricted trawling activity thousands of sea turtles died in the marine sanctuary and mass nesting failed to take place in 1997 and 1998.

Mohanty says that the turtles arrived in December 2000. Soon reports of deaths poured in from all over. By December 25, 2000, observers of Operation Kachhapa had counted 659 dead turtles between Paradeep and Kadua. Unless the state heavy government takes immediate enforcement steps, it is feared that the death count may increase in the next few months.

At Jatadhar river mouth, the observers were shocked to note the gruesome sight of two live sea turtles on the beach bleeding from severe injuries. Both of them were severely injured and one of them had her carapace (shell on the back) broken.

The head of another turtle was bleeding from an injury and her two rear flippers were also chopped off. These injuries have been inflicted with sharp axes and knives when these turtles were caught in the trawlers' nets.

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