By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Berhampur, India — Around 150 carcasses of Olive Ridley turtles have been washed ashore near the Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam district, a major mass nesting site of the endangered species, in the last one month. Forest officials found at least eight dead turtles on Monday.
"Most of the carcasses were found in decomposed state. We suspected these were washed ashore to Ganjam coast from Astaranga area in Puri district, where a number of turtles were found dead recently," said divisional forest officer, (DFO) Berhampur, S S Mishra.
Wildlife activists, however, said the number of carcasses washed ashore was much more than the officials' claim. "Strict patrolling is needed to protect the marine creatures. Wanton fishing by trawlers is one of the main reasons behind the death of the turtles," said Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife activist.
He said over 4,000 carcasses were washed ashore off Odisha cost in the last one month. Majority of them were found between Astaranga and Konark in Puri district. "We have been seeking speed boat patrolling for the last several years. But our demands have fallen into deaf ears, and fishing boats have been used in stead," Mohanty, who is also the coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, an organization working towards protection of the rare turtles since 1998, said.
Forest officials denied there was any lapse in surveillance on the sea shore. "Since several pairs of Olive Ridley turtles have been spotted mating, surveillance measures have been tightened in the coastal areas in order to provide them with congenial atmosphere," a forest official said.
Forest personnel and local volunteers guard the mating turtles in the Bay of Bengal, while Coast Guards look after their safety. The government also imposes a ban on marine fishing within five to 10 km area from the sea shore over 170-km coast in the state from November 1 to May 31 every year to protect the turtles.
Millions of Olive Ridley turtles come ashore in between Kantiagada and Gokaharakuda beach near Rushikulya mouth during the last week of February for mass nesting every year. It is considered the second major mass nesting site for the turtles after Gahiramatha in Kendrapara district. Besides Gahiramatha and Rushikulya mouth, Devi river mouth in Puri district is another place for the mass nesting of the turtles.