One of nature's greatest spectacles - the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles - has been badly hit by sea dredging for constructing a port near the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Orissa, a conservation group has alleged.
Every year thousands of turtles come to Nasi Island in the sanctuary for mass nesting during the months of February and March, but this time none have arrived. Environmentalists blame it on the massive dredging going on for a proposed port at Dhamra just 12 km from the island.
"Last year nearly 200,000 turtles nested in this island. However, they have not come ashore for mass nesting this year," Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, a turtle conservation group, told IANS.
However, mass nesting has taken place at the Rushikulya river mouth, one of the three nesting sites on the Orissa coast, he said.
The Dhamra port, being built by Tata Group in collaboration with Larson and Toubro, will have an approach channel with a width of 230 metres and a length of 15 km to allow ships to enter the port.
This would necessitate the dredging of 40 million cubic metres of sand in the first phase and a dredging of three million cubic metres annually.
"Huge volumes of sand are being dredged out from the seabed and this has adverse impact on the fragile ecology of the coastline," Mohanty alleges.
CEO of the Dhamra Port Company Santosh K. Mohapatra says the allegations are unfounded.
"Only one dredger is operating that too far away from the turtle nesting areas. No turtles are being disturbed," Mohapatra told IANS.
"We are carrying out works under the guidance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the past also turtles did not come for nesting. It is mischievous and unfounded speculation that dredging is affecting nesting," he said.
But Mohanty maintains the Orissa coastline is very fragile and earlier too the effects of development activities were felt far away.
Citing example of Paradeep port built in the 1960s, he said the dredging effects led to beach erosion in Satbhaya village, which is more than 40 km away from the port.
In 2004, Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court suggested that the port be shifted from its present site.
The port site would impact Gahirmatha's nesting turtles and could lead to the beach being abandoned by the marine creatures. It is therefore necessary that an alternative site is located for the port, the report said.