Kendrapara, April 11 (LocalWire): Millions of baby turtles started emerging from the pits last night at the Gahirmatha beach, known as the world’ s largest rookery of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles and started their onward journey towards the sea.
Around 4.6 lakh Olive Ridley females had laid eggs from 27 February to 8 March this year at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands within the Gahiramatha beach in Kendrapara district, said Arabinda Mishra, the forest range officer of Gahiramatha marine sanctuary.
The islands cover only four km length so the mortality of the baby turtles is not so high, he added.
The female turtles drag themselves ashore, dig nests with her back flippers, deposit about 80-100 eggs and then cover and conceal it before returning to the sea never to visit her nest again to take care of the eggs or the hatchlings.
The eggs incubate in the warm sand and after 40 to 45 days, two inch baby turtles hatch and emerge in a group from their nests at night when it is cool and scurry down the beach to the sea.
And once at sea, a new life begins for them, added the forest officer.
Gahiramatha is unique because it is the largest mass nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles in the whole world. The rookery was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997 by the state government to protect the turtles.
This area is also a potential breeding and feeding ground for marine fishes.
The abundance of fish is indicative of high productivity of the area.
The selective preference of turtles for feeding on jelly fish, which otherwise would have eaten the fish, maintains the quality and quantity of fish catch, said Mishra.
Forrest guards have been deployed to prevent dogs, jackals, birds and other animals from killing the baby turtles. Bright lights from the Missile Test Range at the Abdul Kalam Island near Gahiramatha beach disorient the hatchlings and instead of crawling towards the sea they move towards the land and invite predators.
To protect the baby turtles the defence personnel have masked the bright light of the MTR and millions of baby turtles now safely crawl from the pits to the sea water, explained Mishra.
The state government imposed a ban on fishing inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, 20 kms off the shore from 1 November to 31 May to protect the turtles.
Forest officials have already arrested around 840 fishermen and seized 102 fishing vessels on charges of illegal fishing.
Effluents released from intensive and semi-intensive prawn farms, fertiliser plants and other industries along the coast are also affecting the micro-fauna of the coastal region and in turn the food chain of the sea turtles including the baby turtles.
Fast vanishing mangrove forests from the shoreline also adversely affected the feeding and breeding pattern of the turtles.
Mortality rate of the baby turtles in the sea water is high and out of one thousand baby turtles, only one survives to become an adult.
After reaching about 20 years of age, the baby turtle returns to the same beach where it was born, to mate and lay eggs, said Hemant Rout, the secretary of Gahiramatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society.