WB-funded assessment shows sand mining, debris accumulation posing threat to two-thirds of such beaches.
Roughly half of all nesting sites used by two species of threatened sea turtles in the state are being predated by either man or animals, mostly stray dogs, while about two-thirds of beaches that host these sites are threatened by sand mining, debris accumulation, oil spills and erosion, shows an assessment funded by the World Bank.
"Endangered" Green Sea turtles and "vulnerable" Olive Ridley turtles ride ocean currents to cross continents and nest in beaches of about 60 to 80 countries worldwide. In India, they nest in the Indian Ocean islands, along the east coast, and in Gujarat, where they prefer the sandy beaches of Kutch, Jamnagar, Porbandar and Junagadh.
Thousands of expecting turtles go there in the winter months (even in July in case of Olive Ridleys), dig holes in the beaches to lay a clutch of 50 to 130 eggs in a single nest and bury them till they hatch.
But various threats, including predation, habitat destruction and disorientation caused by artificial lighting on hatchlings, small enough to fit in a human palm and who struggle towards the water as soon as they hatch, have been causes of major concern. Bright artificial lights often lure them inland, where threats abound.
While temporary hatcheries have been built along much of this coast and forest officials and volunteers have for several years transported turtle eggs there for safekeeping before releasing them into the sea when they hatch, a detailed study of threats had been lacking.
A recent assessment of more than 700 kms of coastline where nesting occurs, headed by sea-turtle expert Wesley Sunderraj under the WB's Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) project, has found that 47 per cent of over 3,700 nests in these coasts are being predated by humans or animals — 18 per cent by humans and 29 per cent by animals.
It was also found that human habitations on or nearby these beaches is a common aspect, and such presence was found in up to 80 per cent of the areas studied, explaining the high predation.
Accumulation of debris is another major concern, the study found, estimating up to 75 per cent of beach stretches in the three Saurashtra districts and about 60 per cent of the stretches in Kutch were littered with debris.
Junagadh was the only district with sizable oil spills although all the beaches within the Saurashtra districts showed signs of being mined for sand. One-fifths of the nesting areas in Kutch were found undergoing erosion.
A K Verma, member secretary of the Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC), the nodal agency for the ICZM project in Gujarat, said the assessment findings would help direct future conservation plans. "This mapping of threats is part of efforts to see what interventions can be made to protect these turtles. For example, findings of high predation means we will now focus more on awareness generation among locals and ask them to participate in egg collection and keeping these in hatcheries.
"The survival rate of eggs that have been kept in hatcheries is between 60 and 80 per cent, which is very encouraging. So building hatcheries in the beach stretches where nesting has been identified is another area we are currently exploring," Verma said.