Column: Saving The Olive Ridleys

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: For all Nature lovers safety of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, who nest on the beaches of Odisha between November and March every year, remains an overriding concern. This is because hundreds of them are killed every year by fishing trawlers which routinely violate the fishing restrictions imposed by the authorities during the turtle nesting season.

Even though these restrictions remain in place from November to May the threat from mechanized fishing boats and trawlers hovers over these eco-sensitive creatures throughout the period. On the beaches where they nest predators like wild dogs and jackals often destroy their eggs.

Now the help of technology is being sought to give us an exact idea of the location of the turtles and their numbers on the beaches with a beginning to be made from the Rushikulya beach in Ganjam district, one of the three big rookeries of Olive Ridleys in the state. There is a newspaper report about the forest department has decided to use drones fitted with thermal cameras to count Olive Ridley turtles nesting on the Rushikulya beach.

The paper has quoted Ganjam Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) as saying that drones will be used for the first time to count the turtle population and track their movements of these reptiles on the beach. This will help the department get a clear picture of the nesting turtles without disturbing them.

Emphasizing the advantage of technology the DFO rightly pointed out that drones can not only help provide an exact picture they can also cover large areas including areas generally considered to be inaccessible on certain beaches. The turtles can be even counted during the night or in foggy conditions using this technology.

This is good news for turtle lovers just as the news about officials of Gahirmatha marine sanctuary having requested Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) brass to mask the bright lights at the missile test range on the Abdul Kalam island to facilitate the mass nesting of Olive Ridleys on the nearby beach.

The issue of brights lights on the island disorienting the turtling hatchlings emerging from the eggs even as they make their way to the sea was raised with the former president, Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 1997 when he was secretary, DRDO by politician-turned-environmental activist, Bankabihari Das. He had urged Dr. Kalam to get these lights masked and stop missile tests on the island during the turtle season. The scientist, who later became the president of the country, had responded positively to Das’s request.

Equally important is the issue of round the clock vigil on the beaches during the turtle nesting season to ensure that egg-laying takes place in a completely peaceful and safe environment. It is heartening to learn that in areas like Rushikulya local people have joined hands to protect the Olive Ridleys. They have formed turtle protection committees and mount night long vigil on the beaches to keep predators like dogs and jackals off the nesting sites. Ganjam, in any case, has an excellent record as far as protection of wildlife is concerned. In parts of the district’s Aska region, people go out of their way to protect blackbucks and peacocks, their efforts having drawn praise even from forest officials. We hope they work for the safety of the Olive Ridley turtles with the same fervour.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)