Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Rajnagar, Feb 19:
The Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in Odisha’s Kendrapara district, considered to be the largest rookery of the endangered Oliver Ridley turtles, has turned into a mass graveyard of these endangered species as hundreds of carcasses were spotted ashore.
Around 800 Olive Ridley turtles were found dead along Barunei, Pentha, Satabhaya, Gahirmatha, Babubali river mouth and other places during the ongoing mass nesting season by February 15, a forest department official said.
However, unofficial estimates put the toll over 5000, raising concern among environmentalists.
As informed by Rajnagar Mangrove (Forest) and Wildlife Division DFO Bimal Prasanna Acharya, that there have been reports of several Olive Ridley turtles lying dead along the beaches.
During this time, the south wind blows fiercely as a result tens of thousands of female Olive Ridley’s climb ashore to lay eggs. Due to this strong wind, dead turtles were seen along the beaches from Habalikhati to Chinchiri, a Satabhaya villager said.
Meanwhile, green activists have alleged that the endangered species are dying in large numbers due to illegal trawling at Gahirmatha marine sanctuary as the forest officials have failed to check the fishermen from catching fish inside the prohibited zone.
As of now, as many as 25 trawlers have been seized and at least 189 fishermen have been arrested for illegal trawling and venturing into prohibited regions during the ongoing mass nesting season of the turtles, a forest department official said.
Notwithstanding the forest department prohibiting fishing within 20 km radius of the sea coast, over hundreds of trawlers have been seen fishing in the restricted zone near Satabhaya.
Notably, the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, protected under Schedule 1 of wildlife Protection Act, 1972, die after being trapped and entangled in the nets of mechanized fishing during the mating season.
It may be recalled that Olive Ridley turtles were also found dead along the Devi river mouth at Astaranga to Kushabhadra river mouth at Ramchandi in Puri district owing to illegal trawling recently.
The mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles were first witnessed along the 10 KM coastline of Gahirmatha beach for the first time in 1975. As the mating season along the coast continued thereafter, it was accorded the status of Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in 1997 as the first marine sanctuary of the state.
Following granting of marine sanctuary status, it was declared a no-fishing zone in 1993 under the Odisha Marine Fishing Regulation Act-1981. The Act prohibits fishing within 20 km radius of the sea coast. Besides, seven laws have been framed and strictures have been passed by Supreme Court of India for protection of these endangered species.