Meet the home-grown guardians of Odisha’s Olive Ridley turtles
For Olive Ridley turtles returning year after year to nest on Odisha’s beaches, a happy surprise now awaits – a generation of home-grown conservationists coming into their own and uniting for a common cause.
It’s a bright, breezy February morning and we’re getting into a fishing boat to try to spot some Olive Ridley sea turtles. Fifteen minutes later, just one kilometre off the coast of the Rushikulya area in south-east Odisha, there’s no need to try – they’re everywhere. They swim, hundreds of them in every direction, in the green waters – some pass right by our boat – and bob their heads up occasionally for air before disappearing quietly under the surface.
Turning The Tide
It Takes A Village
By the turn of the century, community-based conservation had blossomed. “I used to be anti-turtle till the year 2000,” admits Mangaraj Panda. “I’d think that saving turtles came at the cost of fishermen.” It took a scientific study to convince him (and many others) that turtles, which fed on jellyfish, were actually keeping sea fish safe. “I realised that turtle numbers were good for our livelihoods.” His organisation, Odisha Marine Resources Conservation Consortium was set up in 2004 so fishworkers, scientists, conservationists and non-profits can “speak as one voice” on coastal issues. They encourage small fishermen to stay away from turtle congregation sites during mating and nesting season, and have turned the Olive Ridley from foe to friend.
Many Happy Returns
Perhaps the encouraging numbers of turtles nesting in Rushikulya show what we’ve done right. Panda believes only good has come from winning over women, locals and young people: “The women have influenced their husbands and sons positively, the locals have worked out what is sustainable for them, youth ensure that efforts continue.” At the beaches, Sahu knows that celebrating “Turtle ka birthday” on World Turtle Day (May 23), awarding chocolate and toys to kids who’ve helped hatchlings keeps them motivated.
What makes Olive Ridley Turtles so special?