PANAJI, India — The arrival of Olive Ridley turtles at Morjim and Mandrem has hit a low this season and turtle lovers fear the worst as deck beds have swamped both beaches and violations continue late into the night.
On Saturday, over 300 deck beds were seen laid out on Morjim beach, far in excess of the 90 permitted for nine shacks under the new state tourism policy. "The Morjim beach at Vithalwada looks like a slum with over 300 illegal deck beds, some of them thatched on poles," said a turtle lover.
The shacks, in fact, are hidden behind rows of stalls selling everything from toys to clothes. "A forest department board proudly declaring the area as a turtle-nesting beach has been sandwiched between the stalls," a source said.
Turtle lovers and activists are unwilling to be quoted out of fear of retaliation from the 'beach mafia'. "They have laid siege to the beach; the frenzied activity has disturbed the peace of the beach. None of this can happen without the help of local politicians," a source alleged.
A few shacks at Morjim were seen operating till midnight, as against the specified time for closure at sunset. "In a few shacks, the music was being played till the wee hours," a source said. Vehicles also move freely on some beach stretches. A small patch of the road at the dead-end of the turtle-nesting area in Morjim was broadened on December 19 for additional parking.
The scene is identical at Mandrem as illegal beach beds have sprouted in government property. "It is a lucrative business for beach lords in control of some stretches, who engage migrants to hire out the beds," a local explained.
Goa coastal zone management authority (GCZMA) member secretary, Michael D'Souza said he would refer the matter to the tourism department, which is the custodian of the beaches. "We will direct the department to initiate urgent action as per the guidelines issued by the authority," he said.
After the CRZ 2011 notification was issued in January last year, GCZMA had issued guidelines, specifying the timings for operation of shacks, illumination and music in the eco-sensitive area.
Neither tourism minister Dilip Parulekar nor tourism director Nikhil Desai could be contacted despite repeated efforts. But another official said no complaint had been received regarding the illegal deck beds. "We will surely initiate action as the issue has now been raised," the official said.
Turtles generally surface for nesting on full moon nights or just after. Only two nests, one each at Mandrem and Morjim, have been laid till date this season. Last year, Morjim alone saw 11 nests through the season.
Experts attribute it to a combination of some factors. "Tourism infrastructure like deck beds can make it difficult for the gravid turtle to climb the shore from the water," said marine zoologist and member of the state wildlife advisory board, Manoj Borkar.
The serious gap between the policy and practice has raised concern among environmentalists. "Knowing very well that these are important nesting sites for Olive Ridely turtles, the habitat value of the beach should not have been compromised. The decline may be due to a combined effect of changes in shore morphology and natural cycle," Borkar added.