The mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles started at Odisha’s Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Kendrapara district on March 14, 2020. The sanctuary is considered to be the world’s largest rookery of sea turtles.
Nearly 15,000 sea turtles came ashore at Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands for arribada, a Spanish term for mass nesting, said Bikash Ranjan Dash, divisional forest officer (DFO), Bhitarkanika National Park.
“In 2019, around 4.70 lakh sea turtles nested between February 26 and March 7. Untimely rain and bad weather delayed the process this year,” he added.
The turtles, which had already congregated in the sea near Gahirmatha beach, came ashore for nesting in groups of 2,000 to 4,000 each.
The turtle eggs normally take 45 days to hatch. After this, tiny hatchlings come out and make their way to the sea, said Dash. He added thatarribada would continue for a week.
About 30 forest officials, including forest guards, are now looking after the nesting beach and the sea to protect the turtles.
The state government imposed a ban on fishing activities inside the sanctuary from November 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020 to protect the turtles. However, there are some problems to the process.
Many turtles lay eggs in the same pits as others, which destroys thousands of eggs, according to Hemant Rout, environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society (MTMCS) .
He added that the sanctuary beach is littered with thousands of turtles, which prompts several female turtles to return to the sea. They come out after a few days for laying eggs.
The rookery at Gahirmatha was declared a marine sanctuary covering 1,435 square kilometres from Dhamara mouth to Hukitola island in 1997. This was done to protect the endangered turtles under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 as a Scheduled I animal, added the forest officer.
Nasi — 1 and Nasi — 2 are two tiny islands that are part of the sanctuary and are six kilometres long. But they offer an excellent nesting site for the turtles as there are no predators and human habitation on or near them.
“Our research on Olive Ridley turtles on Odisha coast showed that their population is different than in other mass nesting sites such as Costa Rica, Mexico and Australia. The research demolished the myth that Olive Ridleys come from Australia, Coast Rica and other countries from pacific ocean for laying eggs at Gahirmatha and Rushikulya,” said Basudev Tripathy, Deputy Director, Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata.
He added that the body fitted platform transmitter terminals (PTTs) — or satellite transmitters — on 30 sea turtles at Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya in 2008.
“Around 14 such endangered sea turtles returned to marine sanctuary’s seawater from Sri Lanka a few years ago. Their return proved that they move around Sri Lankan coast. This showed that Olive Ridleys migrated long distances between their feeding grounds in the deep sea of Bay of Bengal and nesting sites in Odisha,” said Tripathy.