Reported by Suryanarayan Lenka
Rajnagar, Dec 24:
In a development that has serious implications for the survival and procreation of the rare Olive Ridley sea turtles, Nasi-2 of the Babubali group of islands in the Gahirmatha beach off the Odisha coast, frequented by these turtles to lay their eggs, is fast getting submerged by the sea.
This group of islands, which earlier stretched up to 15.6 km in length, is now restricted to only a 900 mtr stretch.
The Gahirmatha beach is acclaimed as the world’s largest-known nesting ground of the rare Olive Ridley turtles. About 50 percent of the world’s Olive Ridley population gathers here for mass nesting to lay eggs. The shrinking of the beach thus poses a serious threat to the life cycle of this rare species.
While environmentalists and zoologists are apprehensive about the shrinking of the space for Olive Ridleys to lay their eggs, the land route connecting Gahirmatha has now been submerged by the sea. If Gahirmatha does get lost in the sea as feared, the breathtaking spectacle of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles laying eggs en-masse here will soon become a thing of the past.
In 1974, American zoologist Dr HR Bustard, who had come to Bhitarkanika for research on Baula species of crocodiles, discovered mass nesting of turtles at Gahirmatha and identified them to be of the endangered Olive Ridley variety. At that point of time, the Babubali islands of Gahirmatha had a length of 15.6 kms. The long stretch of pristine beach was the preferred nesting place for these turtles.
With the constant rise in the sea level in the Bay of Bengal, the gradual changes in the sea water and the effects on the trekking water system, the place has now been reduced to a mere 900 metres.
Before cyclone Phailin struck the Odisha coast, the island had a length of 972 meters. Post-Phailin, it has shortened even further to 900 meters. Environmentalists are apprehensive of it getting completely submerged by the sea in the next 2-4 years.
On the other hand, the land route to Gahirmatha and Ekakula, said to be the labour room of the rare Olive Ridley turtles, has already been submerged by the sea. Tourists used to visit these places from Satabhaya on motorbikes at low tide. But with the sea level rising due to climate change and frequent low pressures, the sea has gorged into the forests 500 meters each at two places between Satabhaya and Ekakula.
Also 100 meters before Habalikhati, the sea has eroded the coastline and the Bhitakanika forests washing out sand, leaving it sticky and muddy. Stumps of uprooted trees gaze the sky with tidal waves gushing in. The situation is no different three kms away from Habalikhati making it impossible to reach the nesting grounds of the Olive Ridleys by land route.
It may be mentioned here that with the construction of Paradip port began the erosion of Babubali islands by the sea.
Later, deep sea dredging for facilitating the entry of ships into Dhamra port, the break-waters created to protect the DRDO establishment at Wheeler islands, frequent low pressures and cyclonic storms led to the sea changing course, resulting in constant erosion of the coastline, the nesting grounds and the land route leading to it.
Dr B C Choudhury, head of the Wildlife Institute, Dehradun, which is researching on Olive Ridleys, had five years back cautioned both the Centre and state government about precisely this kind of a situation.