A Hundreds of endangered Olive Ridley turtles were found dead over the past one and half month in Orissa's Gahiramatha beach, a non-governmental organisation in Kendrapada said on Thursday.
"We have been conducting survey of turtles on the 35 km shoreline from Hukitola to Nasi Island of Gahirmatha, nearly 174 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, since Nov 1," said Bijay Kabi, director of the NGO Action for Protection of Wild Animal (APOWA).
"We found carcasses of at least 400 turtles on the beach," he said, adding, "Many of them might have been killed by fishing trawlers that are operating illegally in the vicinity".
Gahirmatha is considered the world's largest nesting site of Olive Ridley turtles. "Every year during winter, nearly 800,000 turtles come to this beach for mass nesting," Kabi said.
Forest and police officials have seized at least 12 trawlers and detained 20 fishermen within a month for illegal fishing in Gahiramatha marine sanctuary.
Apart from Gahirmatha, the state has two other nesting sites -- Devi river mouth in Puri district and Rusikulya river mouth in Ganjam district.
At least 120 dead turtles were washed away from the beach near Devi river mouth, said Bichitra Biswal of another NGO, Orissa Turtle Trust.
"Forest and wildlife officials are hoodwinking the government and the people by providing wrong figures of dead turtles to the authorities to save their skin," alleged Biswajit Mohanty of the Operation Kachhapa, a voluntary organisation.
"The death of nearly 130,000 turtles over the past 13 years will adversely affect the numbers of Olive Ridleys," added Mohanty.
"The government and forest department are taking strict measures to save the Olive Ridleys," said Durgacharan Sahoo, the range officer of Bhitarakanika national park. The rookery at Gahirmatha was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997 by the state government.
The Indian Coast Guard and the forest department have set up 17 camps to guard the turtles and prevent entry of fishing vessels in the sanctuary.
"The forest staff have also spotted dead turtles, but the exact number would be only known later," Sahoo said.
"Besides preventing fishing in the prohibited zones, surprise raids are also being carried in the vicinity," he said.
Turtle causalities have also been reported from Devi river mouth, although in Rusikulya the turtles are in small numbers, the NGOs said.