BHUBANESWAR: From a distance, the pristine white sands of Astaranga beach near Devi river mouth appear pleasing to a traveller’s eyes. A month back, though, the picture was completely different. The beach was anything but clean - littered with tonnes of garbage, plastic waste, broken glass bottles, cigarette butts, fishnets, medical waste and what not.The beach is one of the three major nesting sites of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles in the State, but for the last few years the annual marine visitors have been giving it a miss due to filthy conditions coupled with the menace of mechanised fishing.
However, things are set to change and hopes are high for the return of the guests from next season, thanks to the efforts of a group of six local youths. They have undertaken a mission to clean up the Devi estuary and adjoining Astaranga beach and make them favourable for turtle nesting. The youths from Astaranga and nearby villages under the banner of Paryavaran Sanrakshan Abhiyan launched the drive ‘Devi Kachchhap Kalyanam’ on September 27. Relentless in their endeavour, they pulled out over five tonnes (5,000 kg) of waste from the 18 km-long beach stretch in a month’s time.
The group leader and founder of the organisation Soumya Ranjan Biswal said, among the three Olive Ridley nesting sites, Devi is the least protected and is degrading day by day due to increasing pollution and mangrove deforestation. Despite a ban on fishing during the nesting months, illegal mechanised fishing is rampant here which prohibits the Olive Ridleys from coming to the river mouth for mating and nesting. “Stopping mechanised fishing is not in our hands, so we thought of at least cleaning the beach for safe nesting and movement of the endangered turtles”, he said.
Helping him in the drive are Santosh Behera, Suman Pradhan, Susant Parida, Prabhakar Biswal and Dillip Kumar Biswal. Mentored by award-winning wildlife conservationist Bichitrananda Biswal, also a local, the youths shifted to a temporary camp in the mangrove forests on the shore and spent eight hours every day to clean the beach and river mouth.
The clean-up job was voluntary one but the Puri administration and a local company helped the team dispose of the waste. While the company provided them a tractor to transport the waste to the shore, the beach management committee of Puri administration helped shift the garbage to the material recovery facility at Konark where the waste was segregated and treated at the micro composting centre.The young eco-crusaders now plan to conduct community awareness drives among villagers of Astaranga and Sakhigopal on the need for conservation of mangrove forests.