By Adam Halliday
Data accumulated over two and a half decades and field observations suggest sea turtles may have stopped nesting, or at best, seldom do so, along the 214-km- long coastline that borders the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat.
The region hosts Asia's largest ship-breaking yard, several thermal power plants and a large modern port. Other projects, including India's largest nuclear power plant, are in the pipeline.
"The disappearance of Olive Ridley and Green Sea Turtle nests from this coastline should prompt long-term monitoring," says sea-turtle expert Wesley Sunderraj, who has coordinated two state-wide surveys, the last in 2012.
Forest department records from the two districts that make up this coastline—Bhavnagar and Amreli—show that around 3,200 eggs were collected for hatcheries in the region in 1987-88, 3,170 eggs in 1989, and 4,272 eggs in 1990.
"I surveyed the Bhavnagar coast in 1993-94. I found crawls on the island and pre-dated nests on the mainland. The island is a more secure nesting habitat. But all along the coast there was so much beach debris coming from the ship breaking yard at Alang. The debris as well as toxic waters may have deterred the turtles from nesting. Another factor is illegal sand mining," says E K Nareshwar, an Ahmedabad-based herpetologist.
In 2001, a joint project of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Centre for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, found just five nests along the Amreli coast and seven in Bhavnagar. (Sea turtles such as Olive Ridleys and Green Sea Turtles lay a clutch of about 80 eggs in each nest.)
Wesley Sunderraj, who headed a World-Bank funded assessment of Gujarat's sea-turtle nesting sites in 2012, found no nests along the two districts' coastline.
"The sand on the beaches has totally changed colour. It's almost black now. There is a lot of sea-debris. Apart from pollution, I suspect industrial development and dredging may have changed the way currents move and eroded some of the nesting sites. The Gulf is a region of swift currents," Sunderraj says.
The Gulf of Khambhat famously hosts strong currents of up to four nautical miles an hour, and with a high tidal amplitude, hundreds of end-of-life ships along the coasts of Aland and Sosiya wait for low-tides to rest on the beaches for dismantling.
"Recent reports of turtle nesting were in a newspaper a few weeks ago in Amreli's Rajula block, on the southern edge of the coast. This trend needs to be surveyed," says Dr I R Gadhvi, head of Bhavnagar University's Department of Marine Science.