At least 170,000 endangered female Olive Ridley turtles have laid their eggs in the protected Gahirmatha sanctuary, a famed nesting site in coastal Orissa, during the past 11 days, an official said Saturday.
The turtles came ashore from the Bay of Bengal and laid their eggs in the south beach of Nasi Island-2 in Gahirmatha, located in the coastal district of Kendrapada, some 174 km from here, Divisional Forest Officer P.K. Behera said.
‘The turtles began mass nesting on Feb 24 and since then every day large numbers of turtles were arriving for nesting. Today (Saturday) too, about 1,000 turtles nested there,’ Behera told IANS on phone from the nesting site.
‘All the turtles have nested along a one kilometre-long and 60 meter-wide area of the beach,’ he said.
The Gahirmatha sanctuary is one of the world’s largest turtle nesting sites, where more than a half million endangered Olive Ridley turtles nest every year.
The turtles arrive and congregate in the shallow coastal waters in October and nest between December and March. Most hatchlings emerge by May.
‘Last year around this time at least 180,000 turtles had nested,’ Behera said.
Conservation measures have helped bring down the turtle casualties this year, he said. Last year, around 2,000 turtle carcasses were found on the beach. This year, so far only 1,700 carcasses have been found, he said.
However, Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of the turtle conservation group Operation Kachhapa, disputed the figure and said the number of turtles found dead this year could be about 5,000.
The state has two other turtle nesting sites – along the Devi river in Puri district and the Rushikulya river in Ganjam district. Turtles have however not yet begun their mass nesting in those sites, a state wildlife official said.
Like tigers and elephants, the Olive Ridley turtles are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Trapping, killing or selling of this species could result in a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment. In spite of the several protection measures taken by the government, thousands of turtles get killed every year mostly by mechanised trawlers.