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Olive Ridleys killed once again in thousands

More than 8,000 Olive Ridley turtles are said to have been killed over the past three months by trawlers along the Orissa coast.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2008 15:25 IST

More than 8,000 endangered Olive Ridley turtles are said to have been killed over the past three months by mechanised trawlers along the Orissa coast in eastern India, home to the world's largest nesting site for turtles.

The state has a long coastline of over 480 km in the Bay of Bengal and sea turtles come ashore in several places for nesting in every winter. Around 700,000 to 800,000 Olive Ridley turtles visit Orissa's Gahirmatha beach, located 174 km from Bhubaneswar.

"Like in the past years, the clean sandy beaches of the state are once again littered with bleeding Olive Ridleys, as thousands of them have been washed ashore after being killed by mechanised fishing boats," Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of the turtle conservation group Operation Kachhapa, told IANS.

"Over the past three months, we conducted surveys from time to time and spotted large numbers of dead Olive Ridleys in Gahirmatha in Kendrapada district and at the Devi river mouth in Puri district."

"Besides these two places, we have also spotted dead turtles at the Jatadhar river mouth in Jagatsinghpur district, in the Harishpur area, Chilika coast and in Puri," Mohanty said.

At least 8,354 Olive Ridley turtles have been found dead on the beaches and near the river mouths, the conservation group says.

Around 3,000 dead turtles were spotted in the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary alone, he said, followed by the Dhamra river mouth with 2,000 dead turtles and around 1,154 at the Chilika river mouth.

However, state wildlife chief PK Patnaik said the number of dead turtles discovered along the coast in the past three months was just around 2,000.

"We have taken all measures to protect the turtles," Patnaik told IANS. "We have established at least 45 camps along the coastline comprising local officials and local social activists to keep a watch on the movement of turtles and to provide them protection," he said.

"Besides, we have also sought the help of police to stop the movement of mechanised trawlers near the nesting sites," he added.

But Mohanty said for the last three years, the state forest department has been concealing the exact figure of the turtle casualties for fear of public outcry over their inaction.

He said in the past 14 years, more than 130,000 turtles have been found dead on the Orissa coast, which has earned it the dubious title of being the "world's largest turtle graveyard". Last year, around 9,000 turtles were found dead here.

"The turtle congregation is now breaking up and there is little chance of mass nesting at the Devi river mouth. Every day, hundreds of mating turtles are being slaughtered here."

"Though mechanised trawling is prohibited within a 20 km radius of the coastline, every day 20-30 trawlers could be seen here due to lack of enforcement," he alleged.

Endangered Olive Ridleys continue to be massacred in the state despite orders passed by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court in April 2004 to protect them.

Two new speedboats were bought by the state Fisheries Department with a grant of Rs 12 million provided by the government of India.

However, they are lying idle at Paradip port instead of being deployed for patrolling. It has been learnt that there are no trained boat drivers to run these boats, Mohanty said.

A hired old trawler used at Devi mouth is idle on most days. The dates of patrol are announced well in advance, hence there have been no seizures till date, he alleged.

No night patrolling is carried out though it was ordered by the committee. Also the law made it mandatory for trawlers to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TED), however, not a single trawler uses them.

On January 15, several dead Olive Ridley turtles were found at Gundalba beach with injured heads and cut flippers.

Turtle deaths are, however, absent at the Rushikulya river mouth, he said.

The Rs 10 million given by the Indian Oil Corporation to the forest department in the year 2000 for turtle protection is yet to be used for fishing boats, Mohanty said. The money has been wasted on field camps and buying useless equipment, he said.

The department is yet to fill up the vacant posts of forest guards and foresters in the Rajnagar Wildlife Division and the Puri Wildlife Division, which are in charge of patrolling in the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary and the Devi river mouth area.

Like tigers and elephants, the Olive Ridley sea turtle is protected by Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Trapping, killing or selling of this species could result in a maximum of seven years' imprisonment. Not a single person has been convicted in Orissa, though thousands of turtles are killed every year.

(Jatindra Dash can be contacted at jatindra.d@ians.in)