As rare Olive Ridleys mate, Orissa mounts vigil

Every winter, turtles visit three sites in the state for mass-nesting - the Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapada, the Devi river mouth in Puri and the Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam. Despite many conservation measures, thousands of these marine creatures get killed by mechanised fishing trawlers and gill nets.

"We are keeping a watch on the illegal entry of fishing boats. We are taking all measures to ensure that no turtle gets killed," senior wildlife official Manoj Mohapatra told IANS.
"We have set up at least 15 camps this year along the coast and beefed up patrolling," said Mohapatra, who is monitoring the situation at Gahirmatha - one of the world's largest turtle nesting sites.

More than half a million Olive Ridley turtles arrive and congregate in the sea waters in the state between October and November and nest between December and March. Most hatchlings emerge by May.

"Carcasses of about 50 Olive Ridley turtles have been spotted since Nov 1 this year at various places on the coast near Gahirmatha," Mohapatra said.

"All these deaths cannot be attributed to fishing trawlers because the shells were not found broken. Besides, we found the deaths were not due to suffocation," he added.
According to Mohapatra, at least 17 people have been arrested since Nov 1 for carrying out illegal fishing activities in the prohibited areas. Patrolling has also been intensified by the coast guard and fishery department officials to ensure that the turtles do not face trouble.

"Last year, more then 2,000 turtles were killed mostly by mechanised trawlers and gill nets. This year, the number of casualties is only a hundred if all the sites are taken into account," said C.S. Kar, wildlife scientist of the state forest and wildlife department.
The state government has imposed a seven-month fishing ban along 120 km of the state's 480 km coastline since Nov 1 to protect the reptiles.

The government has also directed the trawlers and boatmen not to carry out any fishing activity within 20 km of the coast so that no turtle gets killed.

Like tigers and elephants, Olive Ridley turtles are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Trapping, killing or selling of the species could result in a maximum of seven years' imprisonment.

Ranjit Patnaik, a wildlife expert, said the turtle mating season began this year with low mortality - not because of patrolling but because of adverse weather conditions.

"Due to the depression and rough sea condition, there were no fishing activities in the Bay of Bengal. The effectiveness of the conservation measures will be established only if the turtles do not get killed on a large scale in the coming days," Patnaik said.
"The magnitude of the illegal fishing activities is evident from the fact that at least 150,000 turtles have been killed in the past 15 years," he said.

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