Rashmi Rekha Das

Even as the Odisha government welcomes the sports lovers to Odisha with Olly as the mascot of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 which is slated to begin on January 13, the government seems to be least serious about their dwindling numbers.

The mascot aims at raising awareness about Olive Ridley turtles as the number of this aquatic species is on decline. 

Despite introducing various awareness programmes involving fishermen, trawler owners and local NGOs for the safety of these critically endangered marine creatures, a rise in the mortality rate of mating turtles along the coast has disappointed animal lovers and green crusaders.

These threatened aquatic creatures in large numbers turn up at the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary for mass nesting. However, illegal operation of trawlers in the nesting site leads to the death of aquatic animals, sources said.

Although the state government has banned fishing by motorised vessels and trawlers within 20 km of the shore along Devi, Dhamra, and Rushikulya river mouths from November 2022 to May 2023, death of the aquatic animals has become a matter of concern, sources added.

It is also being alleged that thanks to the government’s careless attitude towards saving the aquatic species, Olive Ridley turtles have become prey to dogs and other animals.  Thousands of disoriented Olive Ridley sea turtles lay eggs on Astaranga-Konark beach but most of them die after being hit by fishing trawlers or being fed by dogs.

Rabi Singh, a tourist, said, “The government should implement the laws meant for its protection and take stringent action against those who flout the norms.”

"Gahirimatha used to be a safe haven for Olive Ridley turtles but not now. Every year lakhs of endangered Olive Ridley turtles arrive at Gahirmatha for breeding. Due to rampant fishing by trawlers, the number of this aquatic species is decreasing over the years", said another tourist.

On the other hand, the Forest Department claims that the state witnessed a drop in the number of deaths of Olive Ridely turtles this year compared to past few years.

Uttam Gadanayak, SCF-Puri, said “Forest officials on deputation basis are keeping a close watch on trawler movement to check the menace. Compared to last few years, Odisha has registered fewer  deaths of Olive Ridley turtles.