Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Chhatrapur, Mar 15:
Every household in the seaside village of Podampeta in Odisha’s Ganjam district has a visitor – some actually have more than one – these days. Not of the human kind though, but ‘celestial’ beings that come in the shape of Olive Ridley turtles.
“Villagers in Podampeta believe these turtles are the incarnation of god. So, they worship them,” says L Areyya of the predominantly fishermen’s village. In Hindu religious belief, kurma (turtle) is the reincarnation of Lod Vishnu.
No wonder the people have rolled out the red carpet and thrown their whole homes open for the celestial guests.
The villagers believe the arrival of Olive Ridley turtles is auspicious and a god-sent for them and have been guarding these guests against any harm The entire village, which earns its bread from fishing activities, has been engaged in protecting the bony-shelled reptile.
On their part, the ‘guests’ are clearly relishing all the attention. They have unhindered access to every corner of the house. Some even partake of the uniquely human luxury of sleeping on a cushioned bed!
While the adults are all reverence, the kids are pleasantly curious, though a little fearful too. The fear, however, does not deter them from crowding the places where these strange creatures have lodged themselves.
It looks as if the Olive Ridley sea turtles that traverse thousands of miles to the Odisha coast for their annual nesting have found a new home away from the sand dunes normally preferred by them.
Though the annual mass nesting affair began a bit late than anticipated this year, wildlife officials expect the number of eggs laid to reach a new record given the perfectly conducive weather.
‘‘There could be a record number of hatchings this year as the weather is favourable for egg laying. The forest department has divided the 4 km stretch into 45 segments to record data regarding nesting and monitoring of security of the mother turtles and their eggs buried in sand. In as many as 20 segments, the turtles have been seen laying eggs,’’ Brahmapur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), SS Mishra said.
The official records of state forest department says that at least 1,37,000 Olive Ridley turtles have hit the Rushikulya beach in the last four days.
Turtles are likely to throng a sand bar in a day or two and the number of mother Olive Ridley turtles congregating at the Rushikulya beach could surpass 2.5 lakh this year, the DFO said.
As per reports, no restriction has been imposed in two segments—22 and 23— on entry of visitors. However, the forest department has deployed villagers and members of Kaincha Surakhya Samiti (a turtle protection and conservation body) to prevent beaming of powerful lights along the coast. Notably, the powerful lights distract the turtles during the egg laying process.
Meanwhile, the spotlight of wildlife enthusiasts and researchers has hogged this (Ganjam coast) mass nesting destination considered as world’s second largest rookery for Olive Ridley turtles.
State Chief Secretary Gokul Chandra Pati, Energy Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra, Health Secretary Arati Ahuja among others visited the Rushikulya beach to witness and take stock of the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles late on Thursday night.
Maiden webcasting of the mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles has begun on the sandy shores near Rushikulya river mouth. High-resolution cameras have been installed along the Rushikulya coast to capture the rare phenomenon and the images are being uploaded on the internet to provide detailed information on mass nesting and egg laying to the visitors. The information can be accessed through the official website: www.odishawildlife.org
While there were sporadic incidents of mass nesting last year, the number of Olive Ridley turtles visiting the coast for mass nesting was estimated at 60,000. In 2011, it was around 1, 19,000, in 2012 1,09,000 and in 2013 the number was 2,87,000, sources said.