Orissa bans fishing near world's major sea turtles nestling grounds

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Gahirmatha (Orissa), Feb 5 (ANI): Authorities in Orissa imposed a ban on fishing activities near world's largest sea turtle nestling grounds.

Every year during winter, Olive Ridley turtles, an endangered species move in large synchronised concentrations to three major nestling sites along the Orissa coast by the Bay of Bengal, considered one of the world's major nestling grounds. After the young ones are hatched, the turtles return to the sea.

The benign creatures swim up to the shores and swarm the sandy nestling grounds near the mouth of the Rushikulya river only to be butchered by illegal fishing trailers.

The state authorities have declared the whole nestling area a marine sanctuary and have banned mechanised trawlers in the area. Besides it is also urging local fishermen to include Turtle Excluding Devices (TED) in their fishing equipment.

The entire stretch of the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary beach has been divided into segments and is manned to prevent any harm either from animals or humans.

"In the sanctuary area, fishing activity is prohibited by trawlers and heavy boats between November 1 and May 31 in order to provide safe nestling facility to the turtles coming from outside. And in the same period, the forest department and the local police authorities, ensure that illegal fishing activity is prohibited in the area," said Ranjan Kumar Das, sub-collector, Kendrapara.

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 nestling grounds are now packed with them.

Visitors throng the region to witness the amazing phenomenon of the turtles laying the eggs.

But the fishermen seem unhappy with the decision forced upon them by the forest officials and protection groups. These turtles, according to them, eat away their daily bread and butter.

"I am basically from Bangladesh. We were resettled here in large numbers in this area in 1949. Fishing is our family business. We do not know any other trade. But with the wildlife protection act, we have lost our livelihood," said Harsh Hota, a fisherman.

The fishermen said that while they understand that the turtles need to be saved, the government's attitude towards them has been indifferent and they have not been provided with alternate jobs.

The turtles had a safe haven in Gahirmatha till 20 years ago. Though protected under India's Wildlife Protection Act, the use of mechanized trawlers and boats for large-scale fishing in the nearby areas has spelt doom for the turtles.

Besides harming the local marine ecology, the trawler blades injure the Olive Ridleys while scraping the sea-floor for fish. Trapped in the trawler blades, many get butchered.

The large-scale massacre of the Olive Ridley turtles have pushed them to the verge of extinction since those killed are mostly pregnant.

Wildlife experts say the irresponsible killing of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles by marine trawlers is reducing their numbers fast since they are dying with their eggs. By Sharda Lahangir (ANI)

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