Ganjam (Orissa), Mar 8 : Conservationists, residents and wildlife officials in Orissa kept vigil on Friday as thousands of endangered Olive Ridley turtles arrived at a beach for the annual mass nesting.
The benign creatures swimming up to shore swarmed the sandy nesting grounds near the Rushikulya River in Ganjam district with the commencement of the nesting season.
"Last year, there was no mass nesting. The exact reason is not known why mass nesting did not take place last year. We are happy that mass nesting has again started this year and quite a large number of turtles have come and nested during the current breeding season," said Basudev Triparthy, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India.
The Olive Ridley turtle, which can grow up to 75 cm (2.5 feet) in length, is found in tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
With each turtle laying an estimated 120 eggs, large stretches of nesting grounds are now packed with them.
Ashok Kumar, a visitor said the laying of eggs by the turtles was an amazing phenomenon to witness.
"It is very interesting to watch how they lay eggs and again fill it up, and thumping it then going back. I think the government should spread more awareness among people especially those living around this place so they are more conscious," he added.
For the protection of the turtles and their eggs, forest officials and protection groups have divided the entire stretch of beach into 35 segments, each to be manned by 2 persons to keep away any harm either from animals or humans.
Rabindranath Sahu, Secretary of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, said all efforts are being made to protect the turtles.
"These turtles lay eggs which are left here for at least one and a half months. These eggs need to be protected from jackals, dogs and hyenas. Our entire team of volunteers and people from the forest department work with the scientists through the entire season," he added.
Besides protecting the creatures, members of the group also involved in the counting of eggs and marking of the Olive Ridley turtles to keep track of them.
Around 60 forest department staff and 40 residents are participating in the drive to protect the turtles. According to officials, at least 18,000 turtles had so far arrived for nesting.
In 2004, over one million turtles came to the Orissa shores to dig, pits and lay eggs, the largest concentration being at Gohirmatha beach.
Such large concentrations only occur at a few sites in the world.
In 2000, only 700,000 turtles arrived but in 1997 and 1998, the turtles skipped the annual ritual and there was no mass nesting at all.
Experts say turtles are particularly vulnerable because of high mortality rates. According to studies, only one out of every 1,000 hatchlings normally reaches adulthood.
The Orissa Government has declared the whole nesting area a marine sanctuary and has banned mechanised trawlers in the state. Besides, it is also urging fishermen to include Turtle Excluding Devices (TED) in their fishing equipment.