10,000 Endangered Turtles Killed On Indian Coast

By Jatindra Dash

BHUBANESWAR, India, February 5, 2002 (ENS)

At least 10,000 endangered Olive Ridley turtles have been killed in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, a conservation group reported Monday. Turtle carcasses have been washing up on the shores of the Indian state of Orissa since early December.

The turtles are killed when they are trapped in the nets of fishing trawlers during December, January, February and March, their mating season, when they congregate in their nesting grounds in large numbers. Last year, some one million turtles are estimated to have crowded the Orissa nesting grounds.

"Between December and January over 10,000 turtles have died," said Biswajit Mohanty, project coordinator of Operation Kanchappa, a Cuttack based conservation group. Olive ridley marine turtle (Photo courtesy government of Orissa) The turtle death toll last year was 18,000. Mohanty said more than 75,000 Olive Ridley turtles have been killed in the past five years on the coast of India's Orissa state.

The endangered Olive Ridley turtle grows up to 75 centimeters (25 inches) in length and is found in the tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

In recent years, as many as 250,000 turtles have been known to nest at the Gahirmatha beach during one season. Operation Kanchappa conducted a survey across the state's 480 kilometer (300 mile) coastline and found the carcasses of the turtles scattered across their nesting grounds of the Gahirmatha sanctuaries and the mouths of the Rusikulya and Devi rivers in the district of Kendrapada, Ganjam and Puri, Mohanty said.

The highest number of deaths - 2,900 was reported from the Gahirmatha sanctuary. During the mating period, female turtles head for the beaches where they lay their eggs in the sand before returning to the sea. The female turtles tend to move towards the beaches in large synchronized concentrations. They lay their eggs at midnight in 45-centimetre pits that they dig with their rear flippers. The number of eggs that each turtle lays varies from 60 to 100. The eggs are laid within 90 minutes of coming ashore,

After laying the eggs, the female turtles cover the nests with sand. Then they return to the sea in a zigzag manner to confuse predators about the location of the nests. The Orissa government has banned fishing within 10 kilometers (six miles) of the coast, but this is observed more in its breach since the fisheries department lacks the resources to enforce it, officials admit.

The Indian Coast Guard has also deployed its vessels, including a hovercraft. Mohanty's Operation Kanchhapa provides patrol trawlers to the state government. His organization also monitors the beaches where the turtles lay their eggs and protect them from predators.

But to date these efforts have failed to prevent illegal fishing in the coastal waters.

 {Published in cooperation with the Indo-Asian News Service.}