KENDRAPARA: Much to the delight of turtle lovers and researchers, Olive Ridley turtles have started arriving at the tranquil beach of Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary, the world’s largest rookery of sea turtles, in the district from Wednesday night for mass nesting.
“Around 32,000 turtles have come ashore for mass nesting at Nasi 1 and Nasi 2 islands of the sanctuary for ‘arribada’ (Spanish term for mass nesting). Last year, around 52,000 turtles had laid eggs at Gahiramatha in the second week of March.
In 2014, turtles had skipped Gahiramatha, but in 2013, around four lakh turtles had laid eggs at the sanctuary. Last week, around 3.5 lakh turtles had laid eggs at Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam district,” said Subrat Patra, forest range officer of Gahiramatha Marine Sanctuary.
The turtles, which had already congregated in the sea near Gahiramatha beach, came ashore for nesting in groups of 2,000 to 4,000 throughout Wednesday night till the dawn. While Nasi 1 and 2 islands cover only 5 km, the small strip of islands are the proper nesting place for the turtles since there are no predators and human habitation.
The process would continue for a week. The turtle eggs normally take 45 days to hatch. After this span of time, tiny hatchlings come out and make their way to the sea, said the forest officer.
Bright light from the missile test range of Wheeler’s Island near Gahiramatha had been an impediment for the arrival of the turtles. But this year, the defence officials of ITR put off the lights as a result, mass nesting of turtles has started at the sanctuary, he added.
About 30 forest officials are guarding the nesting beach and the sea to protect the turtles and their eggs. The State Government had imposed a ban on fishing activities inside the sanctuary on 38-km stretch from Mahanadi river mouth to Dhamra and a 20-km stretch off the shore from November 1 to May 31 to protect the turtles.
Forest officials have already arrested 444 fishermen and seized 62 fishing vessels on charges of illegally fishing in Gahiramatha.