Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Turtle Day: Meet Odisha’s ‘Turtle Man’

Rabindranath Sahu and his team have been helping in Olive Ridley conservation since 20 years  

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 22 May 2020
Rabindranath Sahu releasing baby turtles into the sea at Rushikulya beach. Photo: Ashis Senapati
Rabindranath Sahu releasing baby turtles into the sea at Rushikulya beach. Photo: Ashis Senapati Rabindranath Sahu releasing baby turtles into the sea at Rushikulya beach. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Rabindranath Sahu, from the seaside village of Purnabandha in Odisha’s Ganjam district, has only one mission in his life: To save the Olive Ridley sea turtles that come each year for laying eggs at Rushikulya beach near his village.

He first delved into the field in 1994 at Rushikulya, when the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) launched sea turtle conservation works in the rookery.

“Noted turtle researcher Bivash Pandav of WII recruited me for turtle conservation work,” Sahu said.

Every year, during the arrival, mass nesting and births of millions of turtles from November to April, Sahu, along with members of the Rushukulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC), work to save the endangered sea turtles.

“The conservation of turtles is not a passing fad for me but a mission. Every year, thousands of turtles come to the beach. But many die annually as fishing trawlers do not use Turtle Excluder Devices,” Sahu, the secretary of RSTPC, said.

For centuries, this coastline has been a nesting ground for turtles. When they mature, they come back to our beach to lay their eggs. Turtles share this place with villagers, who had been collecting eggs for generations, Sahu said.

Sahu and his team choose a few locals to keep a round-the-clock vigil and collect eggs from some of the nests and shift them to specially-made hatcheries on the beach. 

When the eggs hatch about 45-50 days later, they are carefully released into the sea, according to Sahu.

Rabindranath and his team members drive away swooping crows and prowling jackals as they try to devour the baby turtles. It is a job well done and Sahu is never tired of his watchman duties on the beach.

A turtle can lay on an average 100 eggs each time. Sahu takes stock of each nest, sorting the good eggs from the bad.

A turtle laying eggs. Photo: Ashis SenapatiSahu and his team also collect the eggs and bury them in many fenced hatcheries to ensure the hatchlings’ survival. The eggs incubate safely for about two months.

Each year, baby turtles crawl through the thunderous waves to reach the sea after emerging from pits and a disappear into the surging waves after a few minutes.

“While turtle eggs were sold in neighbouring villages for a mere 25 paise per egg, 25 years ago, the turtles were poached for their meat,” S Gobinda Rao, a 70-year-old fisherman of Puranabandha, said.

But now, the villagers conserve the turtles with the help of Rabindranath and his team members, forest officials said.

Rushikulya beach is the second largest rookery of sea turtles after Gahiramatha beach in Odisha. Around 3,27,863 Olive Ridley sea turtles laid eggs from March 21-29 this year at Rushikulya.

Sahu and his team members have been helping forest officials to conserve the marine species since more than two decades, Amlan Nayak, the divisional forest officer of Ganjam, said. 

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