Report by Rajeev Lochan Rathan; Berhamppur: As every year the Forest Department imposes a ban on fishing activities with the use of Mechanised Fishing Boats and Nets in the coastal area along with stretching up to 20-km in Ganjam. To prevent animals to enter the nesting area,2 km sandy area fenced by the forest department for mass nesting of the Olive Ridley turtles in the Rushikulya river mouth.
“Last year a large number of olive ridleys had preferred to nest in this region which had remained unfenced, so this year we decided to extend 2 km the fencing,” said Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer Ashis Behera.
In the month of November 2017, olive ridleys swam here from miles away to mate. Most male turtle have returned to their original habitat thousands of kilometres away, while the females have stayed back to nest at the sandy coast. By March 2018, mother turtles head to the beach to lay about 150 eggs, cover their nests and return.
In this year the mass nesting of olive ridleys is expected to start in a week at this big nesting spot. Thousands of mother olive ridleys are waiting at sea within the coastline between Padampeta, Gokharakuda, Purunabandh area near Rushikulya river mouth of Ganjam district.
The Forest Department have planned to set up olive ridley hatcheries on a large scale in the river mouth area. Necessary training would be provided to some volunteer youths, who will be the key persons in getting the eggs hatched and later release the baby turtles into the sea. More youth from the sea bed villages and research scholars would be engaged during the nesting season for identifying the eggs, arranging nestlings and protecting the hatcheries.
Turtle will lay 120 to 170 eggs and mostly turtle lays eggs during the night and return to the seas. After about 2 months, the baby turtles come out from eggs and crawl towards sunlight. The volunteers engaged for maintaining hatcheries will protect them from dogs, birds, foxes and human beings and release them safely into the sea.
“The officials are maintaining hatcheries in Ganjam district to protect the endangered species. We will organise more turtle hatcheries from this year”, DFO added.
The Forest Department will also organise awareness for costal villagers and fishermen on the need to protect sea turtles, provide training for youth on collecting eggs and hatcheries management.
“We do collect the eggs to eat and sell. They look like white cricket ball and softer. Only the yolk cooks. The rest stays liquid. They do not taste so good but people say it is good for health,” said Balakrishna Reddy, a visitor.
“My fishermen friends would sell them. Many people viewing turtles as an avatar of Vishnu, would not eat them’’ he added.
“It is a superstition that some ailments will be cured if turtle eggs and meat were consumed, I appeal to the people to protect the sea turtles. Killing olive ridley turtles or damaging its eggs and consuming them is a crime and the accused will be booked under Wild Life Protection Act”, DFO added.
Guard will be deployed for patrolling on the shore for about 5 kms, identify the nests, collect the eggs and get them hatched.
The department has also decided to simplify regulations for tourist flow to the nesting coast during the nesting season. Tourists will be allowed to reach only identified areas of the coast through villages so that human intervention does not affect the nesting process in any way.