Wildlife & Biodiversity

Mass nesting of Olive Ridleys starts in Odisha’s Gahirmatha

The natural phenomenon will last till March 8, 2019

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 28 February 2019
Olive Ridley Turtles
Credit: Ashis Senapati Credit: Ashis Senapati

The mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles started at Odisha’s Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Kendrapara district on February 27, 2019 evening. The sanctuary has is considered to be the world’s largest rookery of sea turtles.

Nearly 80,000 sea turtles came ashore at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of the sanctuary for Arribada, a Spanish term for mass nesting. 

The turtles, which had already congregated in the sea near Gahirmatha, came ashore for nesting in groups of 5,000 to 10,000 each and started nesting about 6.30 PM  and staryed until dawn.

But there are a few drawbacks to this natural phenomenon.  

The beach is now littered with thousands of nesting turtles; as a result, there is little space for laying eggs for other turtles. Many are laying eggs in the same pits dug by others. In the process, thousands of turtle eggs are being destroyed, environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society (MTMCS), Hemant Rout told Down To Earth.

Because of the paucity of space, many female turtles have returned to the sea and will emerge from it after few days for laying eggs, Rout added. The forest range officer of Gahirmatha, Arabinda Mishra agreed, saying that the arribada would continue for a week.

The turtle eggs normally take 45 days to hatch. After this, tiny hatchlings come out and make their way to the sea.

The Indian Coast Guard and the Odisha forest department have established 15 camps to guard the turtles and prevent the entry of fishing vessels in the area.

Around 50 forest guards and other forest officials are now guarding the nesting beach and the sea to protect the turtles and their eggs. The state government has imposed a ban order on fishing activities inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary from November 1 to May 31 to protect turtles. 

We have already arrested around 730 fishermen and seized about 90 boats and trawlers in Gahirmatha on charges of illegal fishing from November 1, 2018 to S8 February, 2019, added Mishra.

The rookery at Gahirmatha was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997 by the Odisha government.

Nasi — 1 and Nasi — 2 are two tiny islands that are part of the sanctuary and are only six km long. But they offer an excellent nesting site for the turtles as there are no predators and nor any human habitation on or near them.

Last year, a record 6,64,549 Olive Ridley sea turtles laid eggs between March 8 and 12 on these islands, breaking the nesting record of the last 16 years, said Mishra.

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