Bhubaneswar, March 16: Odisha is the mating and nesting ground of 50 per cent of the world's Olive Ridley turtles, the smallest and most abundant sea turtles, but increasing deaths -- largely due to illegal trawling -- threaten their existence and are causing increasing concern among wildlife lovers.
Deaths of turtle increase
Consider this: While 3,473 turtles died in 2010-11, the figure was 2,382 in 2011-12. The toll increased to 2,717 in 2012-13 and 3,787 in 2013-14, a government report said. The deaths further increased to 5,899 in 2014-15 and an alarming 6,987 in 2015-16, the report added. However, unofficial figures say the toll could exceed 50,000 every year.
Pic Credit: savetheseaturtle.org
The Gahirmatha beach, the Rushikulya and Devi river mouths of Odisha are famous as the world's largest Olive Ridley rookery and accounts for 90 per cent of the Indian population.
While Odisha is fortunate to have such mass nesting destinations for the turtles, many of them die while on their journey to the nesting sites or while mating in the sea largely because they are caught in the fishing nets of trawlers -- even though the boats are banned during the breeding season.
If this were not bad enough, the state has planned to set up about 13 minor ports along the coastline in close proximity to the mass nesting beaches.
Pic credits: Sea Turtle Conservancy/Facebook
Wildlife lovers blame the government
Little wonder then that wildlife lovers blame the state government for sitting idle and not upgrading infrastructure to prevent illegal fishing by the trawlers.
"The state government has brought two boats for Rs 6 crore ($914,000) for patrolling along the Odisha coast. But the Forest Department is not using the boats. While it was asked to purchase the boats in 2004, the department purchased them only last year," Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife activist, told IANS.
The state government insists it is doing everything possible to protect the turtles.
Pic Credit: Sea Turtle Conservancy/Facebook
This is me and my home
"The state government is taking every possible step to protect and conserve the Olive Ridley turtles. We impose a seven-month ban on fishing along the coast. The ban remains in force from November 1 to May 31 every year as Olive Ridley turtles arrive every year during winter for mass nesting," said Siddhant Das, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
Pic Credit: savetheseaturtle.org
As per the Odisha Marine Fishing Act (OMFA), trawlers and fishermen have been directed not to operate within 20 km off the coastline in the turtle nesting sites. Also, motorboats and mechanised trawlers have been prohibited from fishing within five km from the coast, he added.
Das also contradicted the government's own figures, saying casualties have declined over the years while a record number of turtles have congregated this year.
As a result of the protective measures, he said the number of Olive Ridleys has constantly increased over the years from 35,000 in 2001-02 to 465,000 in 2005-06, to 513,000 in 2009-10 and 694,000 in 2012-13, another official said.
There was a sudden rise to 724,000 in 2010-11 but a dramatic drop to 60,000 along the Rushikulya mouth while not a single turtle arrived at Gahiramatha mouth in 2013-14. The numbers rose in 2014-15, with 722,000 Olive Ridley turtles congregating along the coast to lay eggs, the official added.