Mechanised fishing turns Orissa coast into turtle graveyard

Bhubaneswar | Updated: Jan 22 2007, 05:30am hrs
The clean sandy beaches of Orissa are once again littered with bleeding Olive Ridleys as thousands have been washed ashore after being killed by mechanised fishing boats. Dead Olive Ridleys have been spotted in large numbers at Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth, Jatadhar river mouth, Harishpur areas, Chilika coast and Puri.

The Olive Ridley sea turtle is as protected just as the tiger and the elephant as it is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act,1972.

"During the last 14 years, more than 1,30,000 turtles have been found dead on the Orissa coast which has earned it the dubious title of being the 'world's largest turtle graveyard', laments eminent environmentalist, Biswajit Mohanty, who is also the secretary of Wildlife Society of Orissa. Last year, 9,000 turtles perished here, he says adding that more than 5,753 turtles have died so far (up to December 2006)this season.

The situation this season went out of control at the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary after a forest guard, by accident, killed a fisherman from Kharnasi village on December 14, 2006. Angry fishermen snatched away seized boats, released the arrested persons and burned down the patrol camp at Agarnasi on December 22, 2006. In the absence of armed police, forest guards have now refused to carry out sea patrols to protect sea turtles. As a result, hundreds of fishing boats from Kharnasi, Jamboo, Talchua, Dhamra, Kasaphal are fishing daily inside the marine sanctuary without any restrictions. The turtle congregation is now breaking up and there is little chance of mass nesting.

"Every day, hundreds of mating turtles are being slaughtered even inside the Marine Sanctuary", says Mohanty.

The endangered Olive Ridleys of Orissa continue to be massacred despite directions passed in April 2004 by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court to protect them. The apathetic Orissa government has been ignoring desperate appeals by international and national wildlife conservation groups to save them, points out Mohanty. He said the state government was not even using the Rs 10 million Indian Oil Corporation fund and the Rs 10 million received from the Centre for protection of these turtles.