Bhubaneswar, India — Endangered Olive Ridley turtles may delay their mass nesting at Odisha's Gahirmatha beach, one of the world's largest turtle nesting sites. The reason: climatic changes.
Over half a million turtles arrive and congregate in the shallow coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal from October to November and nest from December to March. Most hatchlings emerge by May.
Officials at the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary in Kendrapada district which houses Gahirmatha, 174 km from here, said the turtles were already found mating in the shallow coastal water, but the nesting time may get delayed due to adverse weather conditions.
"Nesting time may be delayed due to climate change. One of the main reasons is that the accretion of sand on the nesting beach is continuing due to the northerly winds," Divisional Forest Officer Manoj Mohapatra told IANS.
"The turtles always prefer to nest after the accretion of new sand that occurs around this time. If they nest during the accretion, the eggs will get buried and hatchling success will be reduced," he said.
"The beach condition is governed by climate change. Probably climate change has delayed the stabilisation of the beach," he added.
Mohapatra said the delay in nesting is not a new phenomenon and such delay was also observed in the past.
"The carcasses of about 274 Olive Ridley turtles have been spotted since Nov 1 last year at various places on the coast near Gahirmatha," he said.
Although he did not predict when the mass nesting will take place, he said adequate protection measures were in place to provide the turtles a trouble-free environment.
He said over 500 people were arrested and over 140 trawlers seized during the past three months for entering into the prohibited area of the nesting site.
The authorities have set up about 16 camps along the beach and the turtles are being monitored by nearly 100 activists and officials. As a result the turtle mortality has not increased, he said.
During the last three months about 900 turtles were found dead on the beach. The number is almost the same as last year's figure around this time, the officer said.
While some turtles were killed after being hit by fishing trawlers, some died due to stress as they travel very long distance in sea. There were also many other reasons behind the mortality, he said.
An Olive Ridley on an average lays about 120 to 150 eggs from which hatchlings emerge after about 45 days.
The eggs are under threat from natural predators such as dogs, jackals, wild boars, crows and eagles and subject to being washed away due to beach erosion.
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.