Over the last couple of years, frequent news on Olive Ridley turtles washing ashore on Odisha and Andhra beaches made environmentalists extremely worried. The endangered species was found dead in large numbers after getting trapped in illegal fishing boats and nets, setting off alarm for wildlife conservationists.
The forest department, which is responsible for monitoring and conserving turtle nesting, will be assisted this year by Coastal Security Group (Marine) police, who will take on the additional responsibility of turtle conservation along with their regular patrolling duties along the coast.
While the initiative has been undertaken along the Tamil Nadu coast, the effort has yielded significant results along the Kanyakumari coast.
Olive Ridley turtles have laid a record 3.55 lakh eggs along Odisha’s Ganjam coast within a span of seven days, according to a official statement. The process started on February 13, said Ashish Kumar Behera, the divisional forest officer of Berhampur division.
He said, “Over 3,55,000 eggs have been laid by Olive Ridley sea turtles within a week of mass nesting in the Rushikulya river mouth of Ganjam coast, making an all-time record.”
Last year, the turtle had laid 3,09,000 eggs, and the number might touch 4 lakh this time around, Behera said adding that they are still calculating.
Every year, Olive Ridley Turtles turtles visit the Kanyakumari coast to lay their eggs, which fall prey to poachers and stray dogs despite constant vigil undertaken by the forest department. Once the turtle nesting season starts along the coast, the department sensitises residents of coastal hamlets about turtle conservation.
The Odisha Forest Department has set up observation camps and is patrolling along the coast to ensure no outsiders enter the 4.5-km long stretch of the beach where the turtles are mass-nesting. The coasts have been fenced and speedboats have been deployed to restrict the entry of fishing trawlers.
“We have already made all arrangements, including establishing observation camps. The coasts have been fenced with nets and have started thorough patrolling in the sea for the protection of the turtles and their eggs during the mass nesting,” added Mr Behera.
The role of turtle watcher is to keep a watch along the coast and alert the forest department in case of poaching. They also look out for turtle nests and eggs, handing them over to the hatchery established in the districts. The eggs are protected in the hatchery till they hatch and young turtles are released into the sea.
Olive Ridleys are the smallest of sea turtle species and get their name from the olive green color of their shells. Thousands of female turtles crawl to the coast and nest in a synchronized manner.