VISAKHAPATNAM, India — They travel thousands of miles from the coast of Mexico to Visakhapatnam, weathering numerous storms and threats along the way just to breed and nest in peace. But at the fag end of their journey, many of these intrepid travellers meet a ghastly end when they get caught in fishing nets and die of asphyxiation or fall prey to dog attacks on the beach.
The endangered Olive Ridley turtles, listed under schedule one of the endangered species list, land up in thousands on Indian shores between the months of November and March. While Odisha's Rushikulya and Gahirmatha beaches are mass breeding grounds, beaches along the Vizag coast like RK Beach, Rushikonda, Bhimili, Pudimadaka and Jodugudulapalem are sporadic nesting grounds that are proving to be hostile as in Odisha the fisherfolk fiercely guards these turtles and their nests.
According to experts, matured turtles, especially females, that move closer to the beaches to nest get caught in fishing nets due to the practice of bottom trawling followed by mechanized boats and trawlers off the coast of Vizag. "Each year from December to March, at least 40 to 50 matured turtles die each month after getting entangled in nets," said Pradip Nath of Visakhapatnam Society for Prevention and Care of Animals (VSPCA).
"Fishermen are supposed to use nets fixed with the TED (turtle exclusion device) but don't do it as it has not been made mandatory," added Professor Bharata Lakshmi from the Zoology Department of Andhra University.
"When we tried to enforce the TED, fishermen argued that their fish catch comes down by 10 to 20% when the real impact is only a 2% reduction. A turtle needs to surface every 45 minutes for oxygen but when they get entangled in the nets they are held underwater for a period of over 2 hours, which kills them," explained Nath of VSPCA.
The turtles lucky enough to dodge the fishing nets either fall prey to packs of hungry dogs or are crushed by callous beachgoers.