Wildlife & Biodiversity

Olive Ridley breeding season: Locals clean up Gahirmatha beach

Over two tonnes of trash, mostly plastic items, was collected from the beach

Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 08 November 2021
Beach clean-up drive at Gahirmatha sanctuary to prepare of turtle nesting season. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Locals, environmentalists and forest officials flocked to the 1.5 kilometres-long beach in Gahirmatha marine sanctuary November 7, 2021 to clean the beach ahead of the mass-nesting (arribada) of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. 

The stretch from Barunei to Dobandhi in Odisha 's Kendrapara district is one of the sites where the turtles arrive in large numbers to lay eggs.

More than two tonnes of trash was collected from the beach during the eight-hour clean-up drive. Volunteers carried away the garbage from the beach to the mainland in boats..

Most of the rubbish consisted of plastic items, discarded fishing nets, glass bottles, shoes and slippers. 

Discarded fishing nets can be deadly to sea turtles if they get trapped in them, said Debashis Bhoi, forest range officer of the marine sanctuary. “These beach clean-ups are important because turtles need a clean beach, without any fishing nets and plastics, to lay eggs.”

Often, marine debris that collect on the turtle nesting beaches are those that have been brough to the shore from other areas by ocean currents. 

Trash floating in seawater can also obstruct the path of nesting and hatching sea turtles by disorienting them. Turtles also mistake plastic items for jellyfish and eat them, said Hemant Rout, a turtle researcher and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtle and Mangrove Conservation Society. “Apart from removing litter, we are also creating awareness among fishermen to prevent them from dumping plastic in the sea.”

Sea turtles are  protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that came into force in 1975 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. India is a signatory to CITES, which prohibits trading of turtles, turtle parts and eggs, added Rout. 

In 1997, the government declared the Gahirmatha beach a marine sanctuary, covering 1,435 square kilometers in the sea and 20km from the coast from Hukitola to Dhamara. This was done with the objective of protecting the marine turtles that arrive in thousands to lay eggs. 

Gahirmatha beach is the largest rookery of sea turtles in the world. The state government banned all types of fishing activity for seven months from November 1-May 31 to save the endangered marine species. In March 2021, 3,49,694 turtles laid eggs at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands within the sanctuary, the forest officer added.

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