Conducive climate, beach this year: In February, large number of Olive Ridley turtles expected to lay eggs in Rushikulya

Low coastal erosion this time due to lack of floods may add to favourable climatic conditions for nesting, say experts

Wildlife experts expect a higher number of Olive Ridley turtles, an endangered species, to lay eggs this year in the Rushikulya river mouth in Odisha’s Ganjam district. The good condition of the beach and favourable climatic conditions may be a reason for this trend, they added.

Rushikulya river mouth is one of the major rookeries in the country, where millions of female Olive Ridley turtles throng for mass nesting (arribada in Spanish) every year. The other sites in Odisha where mass nesting of the Olive Ridleys take place are Gahirmatha and Deve river mouth in Kendrapara and Puri districts, respectively.

The beach at the Rushikulya river mouth is well-preserved this season and that can be one of the reasons for the turtles to choose the site, said Bivash Pandav, a senior scientist, Wildlife Institute of India. “A good number of pairs of Olive Ridleys in mating conditions are visible on the Bay of Bengal water surface near the river mouth due to the favourable climatic condition so far. If this climate prevails for some more days, more Olive Ridleys are likely to lay eggs in the beach this year.”

A record number of over 637,000 turtles had laid eggs in the three-km long stretch from Podampeta to Bateshwar near the river mouth during the eight-day mass nesting period from February 23 to March 3, 2023, according to official sources.

Anil Mohapatra, a senior scientist and in-charge of the Zoological Survey of India’s (ZSI) Estuarine Biology Regional Center, Gopalpur, Odisha, was of the same opinion. “We hope the Olive Ridley turtles turn up in large numbers this time like the previous year, if the present climatic condition prevails,” he said.

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In collaboration with the state forest department, ZSI visited the Odisha coast and tagged over 12,000 turtles in the last three years. The carcasses of two tagged Olive Ridley turtles have been found from Puri and Balukhand beach in Puri district in December and January, respectively, said Mohapatra.

Rabindra Sahu, secretary of Ganjam’s Sea Turtle Protection Committee and an honorary wildlife warden, said the mass nesting was expected to happen early, as there was no adverse weather condition. Like the last time, the mass nesting might take place in the third week of February, he said.

There was no erosion in the beach in the current season, as there was no flood in the River Rushikulya this year and a new sandbar of over a kilometre has emerged, the expert noted. “There is sufficient space near the river mouth, which will help the Olive Ridley turtles in mass nesting.”

Pandav, however, apprehended that due to the absence of floods, biomass like the hatched egg shells from the last season might be left on the beach, buried in sand. “Flood in the river is needed to clean the biomass in the mass nesting sites,” he said.

“We have launched a beach clean drive from November 1, 2023 for smooth mass nesting of the Olive Ridley this year by engaging around 30 forest personnel,” said Sunny Khokkar, divisional forest officer (DFO) Berhampur. “The beach clean-up is being done frequently.”

Moreover the mass nesting site was corralled with green fencing to keep the place undisturbed and no visitor allowed the site, said Khokkar.

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DFO said at least nine protection units have been set up off Ganjam coast for the protection of the mating and mass nesting of the Olive Ridley turtles in the sea. “We have deployed three boats to prevent the entry of mechanised fishing trawlers,” said Prabhakar Nayak, assistant conservator of forests, Berhampur.

Besides forest staff, personnel from coast guard, marine police and marine fishery departments were also patrolling in the sea jointly, he said.

The government has banned fishing within 20 km from the nesting site on the coast from November 1 to May 31, when the turtles congregate.


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