Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Kendrapara, Mar 16:
With over 3, 70, 000 Olive Ridley sea turtles having laid eggs in just the first four days of mass nesting in Odisha’s Gahirmatha marine sanctuary under the Rajnagar mangrove forest division in Kendrapara, egg laying by the endangered species is all set to beat the 15-year record this year.
The endangered species have come ashore at Babubali, Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands for the annual egg laying exercise, along the northern Odisha coast, said to be the largest rookery of the Olive Ridley turtles.
Considering the unexpectedly high rate of egg laying by the turtles, the figure could well cross the 5 lakh mark this season, forest officials said.
The Olive Ridley turtles hit the shores and began the egg laying from March 11 after the mercury plummeted to some extent.
During this period, the female sea turtles crawl ashore at night and dig flask-shaped nests about 1.5 ft deep and lay 100-120 eggs on an average in each clutch and then buries the eggs under the sand dunes. Hatchlings emerge around 45-60 days later after the mother turtle lays the eggs.
As per forest official sources, 10, 651 turtles laid eggs along the Nasi-2 isle on March 11 followed by 69, 723 on March 12, 1, 52, 065 on March 13 and 1, 15, 100 on March 14.
Similarly, 47 female turtles laid eggs along the Nasi-1 isle on March 12 followed by 14, 966 on March 13 and 6, 712 on March 14.
At least 3, 47, 539 Olive Ridley turtles have congregated at the Nasi-2 island for the mass nesting and as many as 21, 735 female turtles have come ashore at Nasi-1 island for egg laying process taking the overall number of sea turtles in these nesting grounds to 3, 69, 274.
Meanwhile, the bright lights from the missile test range at the Wheelers’ Island near Gahiramatha, which is hardly 200 m from the Nasi islands, have been turned off and the security and patrolling systems have been tightened.
Besides, the state government has imposed a ban on fishing activities in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. The Indian Coast Guard and the Forest Department have set up camps to guard the turtles and prevent the entry of fishing vessels. Surprise raids are also being carried out to prevent fishing within the turtle gathering areas.
Rajnagar Mangrove (Forest) and Wildlife Division DFO Bimal Prasanna Acharya, Gahirmatha Range Officer Subrat Kumar Patra, Durga Prasad Sahu, Rajnagar Range Officer Binod Acharya, foresters, forest guards and 30 members of Gahirmatha Protection Squad have been camping at the site to ensure safe nesting and protect the eggs to minimise mortality.
‘‘Net fencing has been done to prevent entry of visitors around 2 km from the mass nesting grounds. In addition to this, three boats and as many trawlers have been pressed into service for surveillance,’’ Gahirmatha Range Officer Subrat Kumar Patra said.
According to forest official figures, 7, 11, 500 Olive Ridley turtles had assembled along the Gahirmatha coast for mass nesting during 1999-2000 and almost an equal number of female turtles had come ashore for egg laying during 2000-2001.
While the attendance of the visitors fell significantly after 2001-till last year, this year’s trend has enthused the researchers, wildlife and forest officials alike.
It is expected to beat the 15-year record, if the egg laying exercise gains momentum continues this way, officials predicted.