The Orissa forest department has written to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for deferring its plans to test-fire the nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Agni-III missile from the Wheeler Islands off Orissa coast in the last week of April. Such tests, according to the forest officials, can impact mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the Gahirmatha beach.
B.K. Patnaik, chief wildlife warden of Orissa told HT: “I wrote to DRDO again on Friday after I came to know from media reports that the Agni-III missile test-firing is being planned in the last week of April. Last month, we had written a letter to the DRDO not to conduct the tests during the turtle-nesting season, but they test-fired the Agni-I missile on March 24. I have now asked the DRDO authorities to postpone the missile test for another three weeks”.
This year, no mass nesting of Olive Ridleys has taken place near the Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapara district, which is the largest rookery for the species in Asia. The most important nesting sites in Gahirmatha are located on Nasi I and Nasi 2 islands, which are situated very close to Wheeler Islands from where the Agni missiles are test-fired. En masse turtle nesting occurs every year from January to mid-May.
Environmental groups claim that the missile tests are having an adverse impact on the mass nesting of turtles on the Gahirmatha beach in particular and along the Orissa coast in general. Jeevan Das, secretary of the Orissa chapter of People For Animals told HT, “The Agni-I test carried out last month has affected the mass nesting of Olive Ridleys at the Gahirmatha beach this time. Without test-firing the missiles in the nesting season, the DRDO can do that in other months.
Hectic preparations take place before a missile launch and the Integrated Test Range remains illuminated in the night. The lights need to be switched off during the nesting season as the Olive Ridleys stay away from the coast because of the illumination”.
B.C. Choudhury, a senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) at Dehradun told HT over phone, “It may not be correct to blame a single agency like DRDO or a single activity like the missile tests for the lack of mass nesting of the Olive Ridleys. Illumination of the test range may have contributed a little bit, but it is not the sole factor. Chronic activities like intensive fishing activities, changes in beach profile and other activities may have affected mass nesting of turtles this time.