While the mortality of humans in Rushikulya River [Odisha], India is in great peril of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As a direct correlation, the survival rate of the Olive Ridley sea turtles has risen markedly in the same region. What's at play to create this reverse ratio? What ties these two dynamic paradigms together? Today's blog has some answers that might surprise you.
By the Numbers . . .
Odisha is one of the states of India. It is 4.9% of the total area of India, and according to the 1991 census, it has a total population of 31.5 million.
In tandem, approximately 278,502 Olive Ridley sea turtles have targeted the shoreline of six-kilometers along the Rushikulya beach of Odisha’s Ganjam this year.
This mass nesting, known by the Spanish word of "arribada," commenced with the migration of mama turtles to the beach starting around mid-March, 2020. These sea turtles came ashore in groups of 5,000-10,000 each.
The turtles skipped Rushikulya last year, which is something that has baffled turtle researchers. Their previous absence was logged in 2002, 2007 and 2016 as well.
A turtle can lay on average 80 to 100 eggs each time. The incubation period of their eggs is 45 days.
According to the Odisha Wildlife Organisation (OWO), nearly 50 percent of the world population of these rare turtles come to Odisha’s coast for nesting. So this stretch of the beach is extremely appealing for these mama turtles. However, making the eggs hatch successfully is the biggest challenge as they are often eaten up by crabs, raccoons, pigs, snakes, and birds.
Why the turtle numbers are on the rise this year?
The divisional forest officer of Berhampur, Amian Nayak said the reasons this year's turtles arrived in greater number is based on a few factors. In previous years, many of the turtle birth pits were destroyed by residents, tourists and poachers.
In previous years, “turtle eggs were sold in neighboring villages for a mere ten paise per kg three decades back,” 67-year-old Saroj Sahu of Puranabandha village, said.
This year tourists have been barred from visiting Rushikulya due to the countrywide lockdown in place since the third week of March. But turtle researchers and environmentalists have been allowed to visit the nesting sites, Nayak noted.
"Around 25 forest guards and turtle researchers are now inspecting the nesting beach and the sea to protect the turtles and their eggs," noted Rabindranath Sahu, a turtle researcher. Sahu is also the secretary of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC) of Puranabandha village near Rushikulya beach.
To ensure the turtles’ survival, Sahu and his team members of RSTPC collect the eggs and bury them in fenced hatcheries, where they incubate safely for that 45-day period. The team is also responsible for driving away crows and jackals as they try to attack the turtles.
Two trawlers, two-speed boats and a country boat are being used by Forest Department to patrol the sea, in order to prevent fishing trawlers from plying sea turtles along the coast.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been implementing conservation strategies with local communities and the state government at the mouth of the Rushikulya River. WWF works with other key partners to develop and support an integrated conservation program. Their services feature:
- Beach protection and monitoring through community-based reserves;
- Bycatch mitigation measures, and improved fishing practices in collaboration with the shrimp trawling industry off the Orissa coastline;
- Advocacy for improved integrated coastal zone planning and management, including strategies to counteract inappropriate beach lighting;
- Investigating bycatch mitigation measures with partners in Sri Lanka; and
- Investigating opportunities for local people to benefit from turtle conservation through improved fishing practices, and involvement in turtle-based tourism.
To put this in perspective, the largest number of nesting females at the Rushikulya River tracked in the past was 150,000-200,000. With the lock-down of residents in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that 278,502 number has a great chance of increasing yet still, making 2020 a banner year for Olive Ridley nests and their hatchlings. Here's hoping these factors provide an increase in the survival rates of these very special sea turtles.. Your thoughts readers.
Primary Source: Times of India