The Hindu , 19 February 2006

Olive Ridley turtles come on time in Orissa

Bhubaneswar: The arribada, or annual mass nesting, of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles has started at the Rushikulya beach at Gokharkuda village in Orissa's Ganjam district. According to preliminary estimates, about 15,000 turtles crawled ashore to lay their eggs on a 2-km stretch of beach at the Rushikulya river mouth near Purunabandha and Gokharkuda villages. The mass nesting, which started by midnight on Thursday, continued through the morning. Hundreds of turtles were laying eggs by dawn.

Operation Kachhap coordinator Biswajit Mohanty said here on Saturday that the Olive Ridleys have stuck to their time-table, so to say. He said this time they have less space to nest since a natural lagoon has been formed on the beach. No mass nesting has taken place so far either at the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary or the Devi river mouth.

There are three mass nesting sites in Orissa: the Nasi Islands in Gahirmatha, the Devi river mouth and the Rushikulya river mouth. The Rushikulya nesting beach was discovered only in 1994 by Wildlife Institute of India researchers during turtle surveys on the Orissa coast. Last year, the Forest Department estimated that 90,000 turtles nested on the Rushikulya beach. Mr. Mohanty said the Forest Department staff and local turtle protection groups of Purunabandha and Gokharkuda villages are counting the turtles.

After the nesting phase, they would protect the eggs from natural predators such as dogs and jackals. An Olive Ridley on an average lays 120 to 150 eggs, from which hatchlings emerge after 45 to 50 days. However, many of these eggs are lost to dogs, jackals, wild boar, eagles or gulls, or simply washed away. Studies have indicated that only one out of every 1,000 eggs laid ultimately produce an adult Olive Ridley turtle.

Mr. Mohanty said there are other large-scale irreversible threats looming over the nesting turtles at the Rushikulya river mouth. These include a crude oil terminal (COT) project at Kantiagada village and a deep-sea oil block allotted for drilling out oil and gas. He claimed that one of the blocks was located on the path of the turtle migratory route, as identified in a satellite telemetry study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2001. Drilling activity may drive turtles away from their normal migration path, he said. UNI