Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Rajnagar, Apr 30:
It was a rare treat for the eyes as over two lakh Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings crawled their way to the sea from Babubali island at Gahirmatha marine sanctuary under the Rajnagar mangrove forest division in Odisha’s Kendrapara district on Tuesday night.
The offspring of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles began their maiden return sojourn to their natural habitat into the deep sea after being brought to this world by mother turtles during the annual mass nesting season along the beaches here.
This unique phenomenon at the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, considered to be the largest rookery of the endangered Oliver Ridley turtles, where the young ones are dispersing into the Bay of Bengal would continue for the next 4-5 days, wildlife officials said.
During the annual mass nesting season, around 4, 33, 132 turtles had assembled at the Babubali island for the annual ritual from March 11 to 17 this year.
The Olive Ridley turtles hit the shores and began the egg laying 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 100-180 eggs on an average in each clutch and then bury the eggs under the sand dunes. Hatchlings emerge around 40-60 days later after the mother turtle lays the eggs.
This year, the retreat began on April 28 night when over 2 lakh baby turtles plunged into the Bay of Bengal after crawling along the beach.
A mother turtle lays around 100-180 eggs on an average. However, some eggs have been destroyed due to rising temperature, intermittent heavy rains and strong tidal waves hitting against the eggs, wildlife experts said.
Notably, the bright lights from the missile test range at the Wheelers’ Island near Gahiramatha, which is hardly a stone’s throw away from the nesting ground, are turned off every year during the nesting season till the hatching process is over. The bright surveillance lights act as deterrent for the turtles and divert them to other areas for nesting.
After request from the forest officials, the defence establishment authorities agreed to turn the lights off at night during the nesting season.
Meanwhile, forest officials have been keeping a strict vigil along the beaches for safe nesting of the turtles.
“We have deployed 20 forest staff apart from senior officials at the Babubali island to ensure security and safety of the turtles at the island,” Rajnagar Mangrove (Forest) and Wildlife Division DFO Bimal Prasanna Acharya said.
A team headed by DFO Bimal Prasanna Acharya, Assistant Conservator of Forests Pradosh Kumar Patnaik, Gahirmatha Range Officer Subrat Kumar Patra, Range Officer Durga Prasad Sahu among other senior officials has been camping in the area to ensure safe nesting and protect the eggs to minimise mortality.