Wildlife & Biodiversity

Mass-nesting of turtles begins at Odisha’s Gahirmatha

Around 5,000 Olive Ridley sea turtles came ashore for mass-nesting at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands on March 9 night

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 11 March 2021

The nesting of thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles, a yearly phenomenon awaited by marine life enthusiasts, started on the night of March 9, 2021 at the tranquil beaches of Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Kendrapara district. It is the world’s largest rookery of sea turtles.  

"Around 5,000 Olive Ridley sea turtles came ashore for mass-nesting at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of Gahiramatha marine sanctuary on March 9 night for 'arribada', a Spanish term for the mass-nesting. Last year, around 407,020 turtles laid eggs from 14-21 March at these islands. The nesting of sea turtles is one of nature's most amazing spectacles," said Debashis Bhoi, range officer of the marine sanctuary.

Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands are two tiny islands stretching five kilometres. The small strip of land is the perfectt nesting site for the turtles since there are no predators or human habitation. The forest officer said: 

"The arribada would continue for a week. The turtle eggs normally take 45 days to hatch. After that, tiny hatchlings come out and make their way into the sea."

Many turtles are laying eggs on the same pits dug by other turtles and so, thousands of eggs are being destroyed. The  beach is dotted with thousands of nesting turtles, leaving little space for other turtles to lay eggs. Many female turtles have returned to the sea and will emerge after few days, added the forest officer.

About 30 forest officials, including forest guards, are now guarding the nesting beach and the sea to protect the turtles and their eggs. The state government imposed a ban on fishing activities inside the Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary from November 1 to May 31 to protect the turtles. 

The rookery at Gahiarmatha was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997. It is spread over 1,435 square kilometers from Dhamra mouth to Hukitola island.

In the previous years, bright light from the missile test range at Wheeler’s Island near the sanctuary had been an impediment for the arrival of the turtles. The defence officials switched off the lights this year and thus, the mass-nesting has started, said the forest officer.

“Environmentalists, turtle lovers, forest officials and others are delighted as the arribada started in Gahirmatha,” said Hemant Rout, an environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society. 

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