Sudarshan Patnaik, the Indian state of Orissa’s famous sand artist, has decided to join the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to spread a global message to save the endangered Olive Ridley turtle, which has its largest nesting ground and sadly also their biggest graveyard in the state.
So concerned is Patnaik about the fate of the turtles, that he is busy these days making sand replicas of the species in Bhubaneshwar to garner support from locals and fishermen.
Every year as winter rolls around, the Olive Ridleys move in large numbers to three major nesting sites along the Orissa coast by the Bay of Bengal, before returning to the sea.
But the rising deaths of the Olive Ridleys have been a cause for alarm, leading environmentalists to blame 90 percent of the turtle deaths on mechanised fishing trawlers and faulty techniques.
“We thought we would make use of the fact that the beach festival attracts so many domestic and foreign tourists. The campaign to save the Olive Ridley could have been very successful here,” said Patnaik.
Last year over one million turtles came to the Orissa shores to dig sand pits and lay eggs, the largest concentration being at Gohirmatha beach.
Such large concentrations only occur at a few sites in the world. In the year 2000, only 700,000 turtles arrived but in 1997 and 1998, the turtles skipped the annual ritual and there was no mass nesting at all.
“Luckily this coincides with the arrival of the turtles in the coasts where they come to mate. Eventually they would be nesting in February so we thought we would use this as a platform to reach the message across to people of the need to preserve these turtles,” said Michael Peters, Orissa State Director, World Wildlife Fund.
The Orissa state government has declared the whole nesting area a marine sanctuary and has banned mechanized trawlers in the state. Besides it also urges local fishermen to include Turtle Excluding Devices (TED) in their fishing equipment.
Though fishing is restricted around the marine sanctuary, mechanized trawlers move freely scouring the sea floor within 200-300 meters off the sanctuary.
The turtles are vulnerable also because of high mortality rates. According to studies, only one out of every 1,000 hatchlings normally reaches adulthood.
The Olive Ridley turtle, which can grow up to 75 cm (2.5 feet) in length, is found in tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.