Wildlife & Biodiversity

Olive Ridley nesting begins: Over 500,000 turtles lay eggs in 4 days at Odisha’s Gahirmatha sanctuary

Space crunch has pushed several female turtles to return to sea. But they will be back in a few days to nest

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 13 March 2023
The phenomenon on Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 island in Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary began March 9, 2023 and will continue for about a week. Photo: Ashis Senapati

The mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles, an annual phenomenon called ‘arribada’, began in Odisha’s Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary on the night of March 9, 2023 — more than 10 days sooner than last year, according to Bichitranda Behera the range officer of the marine sanctuary. 

As many as 503,719 turtles laid eggs in the last four days on the tranquil beaches of the sanctuary in Kendrapara district, the world’s largest rookery of sea turtles.

This number is also higher than last season when 501,157 turtles laid eggs from March 25-28, 2022.

On March 9, 88,605 Olive Ridley sea turtles came ashore and laid eggs at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of the sanctuary; on February 10, 214,058 turtles laid eggs; on February 11, 173,400; and on February 12, 27, 656. 

The nesting of sea turtles is one of nature's most amazing spectacles, Behera noted. 

The five-kilometre stretch on the two tiny islands make for a proper nesting site for the turtles since there are no predators or human habitation here. 

The mothers have to fight for space in this safe but small haven. Pits dug by a turtle to lay their eggs are often encroached upon by other individuals, destroying thousands of eggs, said Hemant Rout, an environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society. 

The space crunch pushed many female turtles to return to sea; they will be back after a few days for nesting, the expert added. 

Arribada, which is the Spanish word for the phenomenon, continues for roughly a week and the eggs hatch in around 45 days, the forest officer said. “After this span of time tiny hatchlings come out and make their way to the sea.” 

Pits dug by the female turtles are often taken over by others, destroying thousands of eggs. Source: Ashis Senapati

Around 40 forest officials, including forest guards are guarding the nesting sites and the sea to protect the turtles and their eggs. The state government imposed a ban on fishing activities inside the sanctuary from November 1 through May 31 to protect the turtles. 

The government of Odisha declared the rookery at Gahirmatha covering 1,435 square kilometers from the Dhamra mouth to Hukitola island a sanctuary in 1997 to protect the endangered turtles. 

The Olive Ridley sea turtles are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 as a Scheduled 1(vulnerable / endangered species) animal, added the forest officer.

The Orissa High Court constituted a three-member committee February 26, 2021 to look into the conservation work being done on the islands, acting on a story in Down To Earth regarding the death of 800 Olive Ridley sea turtles in the area. The committee was ordered to visit Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and submit a report.

The experts on the panel called for stringent bans on activities and fishing near the nesting sites, stringer fencing and surveys to identify the nesting hotspots, among other things, in the report submitted to the court

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