Showing posts with label Olive Ridley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Olive Ridley. Show all posts

May 30, 2018

Enterprising Odisha women take to selling fish to improve lives

Women in Odisha’s coastal fishing villages have turned to selling fish and value-added fishery products after eliminating middlemen and abolishing the home brewing of country liquor, the root cause of their problems.

Selling fish at the local fish market, Dulana Das (40) of Rambha village in Odisha’s Ganjam district took pride in introducing herself as a businesswoman instead of a fisherwoman. “I buy fish every morning from fishermen who fish in Chilika Lake and the nearby sea,” Dulana told“With a designated place for me in the market, and a 20% profit, I earn a good income.” 

“Women like Dulana have not only contributed to economic progress of their families, but to improvement of their social status too,” said A. Kaleya, a young man engaged in community development work. An ignored lot, the women rooted out problems one after the other, and emerged as successful entrepreneurs. “We are now treated like human beings,” said 75-year-old B. Chittamma (75) of Kotturu village.

Disregarded women

Decades ago, families and the community ignored their women. “Boozing being common among male members of almost all fishing villages, women didn’t get any respect, but always bore the brunt of alcoholism,” Chittamma told

Despite standard catch, the income was low because middlemen siphoned off the profit. They never paid the fishermen on time. The fisher families had to struggle for survival under economic pressure. Whether it was lack of money or the men’s frustration caused by paucity, women were the victims.

Chittamma came to Kotturu village as a young bride from neighboring Andhra Pradesh. “She suggested mobilizing fisherwomen to end their plights,” Mangaraj Panda of Ganjam-based non-profit United Artists’ Association (UAA) told

Women band together

As a first step, nine groups of fisherwomen, with 20 members in each group, were formed under Kalyani Nari Shakti Sangha in Kotturu. The number of groups soon increased to 14, when women formed five groups in an adjacent village named Arjipalli. The women first fought against brewing of country liquor and succeeded.

Their success in abolishing country liquor production in the villages encouraged the fisherwomen to address their financial problems next. They pooled in money and ventured into fish business in local markets.

The women paid cash immediately for the fish they purchased. They demanded outside vendors and middlemen to pay likewise while lifting the catch. “Though the vendors resisted initially, since they had to supply fish to the markets as per commitment and since our men supported us, they paid up,” said Chittamma.

Federating women’s groups

“This was the game-changer,” said Mangaraj Panda. “With this positive development, women in other villages across coastal Odisha formed groups and they too fought to end exploitation by middlemen.”

There were still some issues. Every group did not have equal access to the market to sell their stock. Prices of fish differed from place to place. In order to bring all the fisherwomen under one umbrella and develop common market linkages, they formed a federation named Samudram.

Started with 68 marine fisherwomen self-help groups (SHGs) having 1,360 members in 1998, Samudram now has 149 SHGs from 52 fishing villages of four coastal districts, namely, Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore. The women conduct business individually as well as through groups.

In order to empower the fisherwomen as entrepreneurs, Samudram organized training sessions for them on hygienic methods of producing dry fish and other fishery-based products. “It opened up new earning opportunities for us and fetched better profit than the raw fish,” K. Eramma of Nolia Nuagaon village told

Samudram has set up fish procurement and processing centers equipped with refrigeration and drying racks for fresh fish, besides weighing and packaging machines at different places. Women own and manage the facilities.


“Even though income was important, catching and selling fish was not all, because the catch was falling day by day,” said Chittamma. “Instead of overexploiting this marine resource, we had to ensure long-term availability.”

“We didn’t know this resource is limited and the catch may fall further, and make us go out of business,” P. Kaumudi (50) of Nolia Nuagaon told“As experts explained the reasons for dwindling catch and actions needed, we changed our fishing practices.” The fishermen started using nets to spare the seeds and fingerlings. They declare no-fishing days periodically.

“Women also took up poultry and goat-rearing as alternate livelihoods during no-fishing months,” Kaleya told helped them make a living during the fishing ban from November to May, in the coastal seas of Ganjam, Puri and Kendrapara districts for the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles during their annual nesting phenomenon called arribada.

According to fishermen, government and regulating authorities turn a blind eye to trawlers that violate norms and pose bigger threat to the ocean, its ecosystem and fish population. “Living on the coast and depending on the sea for livelihood, we have to protect the marine ecosystem and the visiting turtles to keep our sea healthy and dependable,” fisherwoman Kaumudi told

Tax hurdle

Samudram now faces the toughest hurdle since the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). “As GST mandates 12% tax on packaged dry fish items, prices have increased, and so many of the wholesale buyers have stopped buying,” said Panda.

This has led to a halt in businesses by the groups and the federation. “The fisherwomen work individually now,” said Kaleya. The members contend that they are not educated enough to keep accounts and file GST. Some advised the women to hire a professional.

“It’s not feasible since we are not a corporate business, but make a living out of it,” said Chittamma. “Our progress will stop if community development and livelihood activities do not get tax exemption.”

Beyond business

Notwithstanding the let up in business due to GST, Samudram has not only helped the women earn, but has also empowered them to identify their potential and dream a better future for their children.

The women claimed stopping brewing of country liquor and stopping child marriage as their biggest achievements. They have helped construction of schools in villages to educate their children. “Girls go to college now, whereas they were not allowed to complete primary education earlier,” said Chittamma.

Undergraduate students like S. Puja and A. Kamla of Nolia Nuagaon are proud to be the first girls from their village to have joined college. “Our aim is to pursue higher studies and find jobs,” they said.

The groups have become sources of support to members in time of emergencies. “Samudram and the SHGs helped us overcome the damages caused by two major cyclones, namely, the Phailin in 2013 and the Hudhud in 2014,” B. Mahalaxmi (40) of Huma village told
The report first appeared on May 28, 2018, at the VillageSquare.

May 09, 2014

Turtle disaster: Gahirmatha to be abandoned by marine turtles?

Coastal erosion and climate change have forced hundreds of thousands of endangered olive ridley marine turtles to skip this breeding season at Odisha's Gahirmatha beach, one of their favorite destinations for mass nesting.

Named after their olive-colored, heart-shaped shell, these Pacific turtles migrate thousands of miles in the Indian Ocean for mating and nesting. Gahirmatha beach drew international attention after its discovery in 1974 by American zoologist Dr H R Bustard. For centuries, the beach has hosted the world's most spectacular arribada, the Spanish word for "arrival by sea" that is used to describe arrival of turtles en masse. Last season, more than 200,000 turtles visited this beach in a single night.

The marine turtles routinely visit the coast during October-November to mate, while annual mass nesting usually takes place between January and March each year.

However, the event has not occurred this year even though the season is almost at its end.

Human interference

In order to offer a peaceful atmosphere for the turtles, a ban on fishing within 20 kilometers of the coast was imposed from November 1, 2013, till the end of May 2014.

The ban is to restrict the local fishing community but "the turtles are in trouble due to the frequent and illegal movement of trawlers in the prohibited area," said a local volunteer.

Apart from fishing, regular missile tests by the Indian Defence Ministry's DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) during turtle breeding seasons are also believed to have affected migration.

"Despite requests from the government to restrain from testing missiles during turtle breeding seasons, test firing is conducted. This seems to be an act of irresponsibility from the DRDO," Biswajit Mohanty, a known turtle conservator and noted wildlife activist, told the Global Times.

Since November 2013, at least four tests have been carried out by the DRDO at Wheeler Island, which is close to the turtle nesting site. The last of the tests took place on April 11. It has been reported that the DRDO has plans to carry out more than a dozen such tests during the next 45 days, throughout the turtle breeding season that extends up to May 31.

Apart from the missile tests, operational activities at Dhamra Port are also thought to be disturbing the turtles. However, the negative impact of the port on the annual breeding activities of turtles was known in the port's planning period. In fact, project works for the port at the mouth of the Dhamra River were delayed for about a decade.

If wildlife officials at the forest department are to be believed, Gahirmatha still waits for the turtles to visit the beach to nest as the event has previously taken place during the latter part of April.

"Unusual rain during the peak nesting season might have played deterrent to the annual breeding activity of the turtles. But, huge numbers of female turtles are still in the river mouth and the coastal sea. As the event of mass nesting has taken place late in April in many past years, we still hope that it may be the same this year too," Kedar Kumar Swain, the Divisional Forest Officer of Rajnagar Mangrove Forest Division, told the Global Times.

However, apprehension that the turtles may skip the annual activity this year rather grows stronger with every passing day.

Same fate as Costa Rica?

To nature conservationists and wildlife experts, the turtles are deprived of the space they require because rapid coastal erosion and frequent high tides have geographically deformed and shrunk the beach they nest on.

"Erosion at an alarming scale is the biggest threat to the beach and the marine species that travel so long in the ocean to reach their favorite ground for nesting. If the trend continues, the turtles may have no other option but to abandon the beach and look for other destinations," Jivan Das, an activist involved with India's leading animal welfare body - People for Animals - told the Global Times.

"Remarkable changes in climate are also a factor behind making the beach unsuitable for nesting activity," Das added.

"Unusual rain in the peak nesting season, frequent high tides and variation in coastal temperature are some of the indicators of climate change that might have disturbed the balance of moisture in the air and sand, which is an essential factor to keep the beach conducive for nesting of turtles," Dr Rahas Bihari Panda of Department of Environmental Science, North Odisha, told the Global Times.

"The delay in the activity of the turtles may also be attributed to El Nino. As scientists have predicted about the possible impacts of the phenomenon over Indian weather, the marine reptiles might have sensed it early from the transportation of heat by sea currents," Dr Panda said.

Looking at the recent trend with Costa Rica's national parks, host to nesting activity of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, coastal erosion and climate change has forced the turtles to change their migration route. It's not absurd to imagine a similar fate for the Gahirmatha nesting beach.

But the question is, if they skip Gahitmatha, is it just for this year or forever?

The report was first published on April 28, 2014 in the Global Times.

February 19, 2012

Climate Change Impact may force Olive Ridley Turtles to abandon Odisha beaches for mass nesting

Higher degree of erosion at many points of Odisha's coastline poses serious threat to the routine activities of marine turtles and raises doubts about the continuity of the tradition of mass nesting by the Olive Ridley marine turtles called ‘Arribada’. The nesting grounds are being squeezed alarmingly and the coastal vegetation that plays a vital role in providing food to lakhs of mother turtles and their hatchlings is vanishing rapidly because of coastal erosion and aggressive persuasion of development projects like port infrastructure by Odisha government across the coastline. In regard to the nesting activities this season (2012), things look quite uncertain as the beaches near Gahirmatha river mouth, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya river mouth, that have been the regular nesting grounds for the turtles, have lost most of their space in the Bay of Bengal because of erosion. 
The mating season of Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) marine turtles has already begun in the Bay of Bengal close to the coastline of Odisha, India. As per experts and volunteers working in areas of safety and conservation of the sea turtles, things go well with the mating this year. But what they apprehend is that higher degree of erosion at many points of the coastline poses serious threat to the marine specie and raises doubts about the continuity of the tradition of mass nesting by the Olive Ridley marine turtles called ‘Arribada’. The doubts seem to be logical because the nesting grounds are being squeezed alarmingly and the coastal vegetation that plays a vital role in providing food to lakhs of mother turtles and their hatchlings is vanishing rapidly because of coastal erosion and aggressive persuasion of development projects like port infrastructure by the government across the coastline. In regard to the nesting activities this season (2012), things look quite uncertain as the beaches near Gahirmatha river mouth, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya river mouth, that have been the regular nesting grounds for the turtles, have lost most of their space in the Bay of Bengal because of erosion.
Inhabiting tropical and subtropical bays of Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean, this marine specie visits some specific beaches of Odisha for mass nesting activity because of the conditions that are conducive for mating, nesting and hatching. 
“Odisha’s beaches are special to these sea turtles for many reasons like, the size of the sand grains that offering the turtle with and opportunity and all convenience to dig a whole in the sand and lay eggs; the unique coastal vegetation that offers ample amount of food to thousands of mother turtles and millions of their hatchlings; the climatic condition with a proper balance of temperature and moisture for the hatchlings to emerge from the eggs”, says noted wildlife scientist Dr. Chandra Sekhar Kar of Odisha Wildlife department. 
Now, mating activities have been spotted in the sea near all three major rookeries, known so far, like Rushikulya River Mouth, Devi River Mouth and Gahirmatha River mouth. But it's difficult to conclude at this point that the annual activity of mass nesting would go well this year. The trend of sea erosion in many points of the coastline, and mostly at places that are close to the rookeries, has not only raised concern about the nesting activity this time but also the continuity of the tradition of mass nesting on the beaches of Odisha.
The rookery that first drew the attention of turtle researchers and wildlife lovers as the biggest host of annual ‘Arribada’ is Gahirmatha River Mouth in the northern coast of Odisha that is now the middle point between two major ports at Dhamra and Paradip. Lakhs of marine turtles travel miles in the sea to reach this place for nesting. “Erosion of the beach adjacent to the river mouth at an alarming scale has forced the visiting turtles to nest at Nasi now, a few KM away from the traditional nesting site at Gahirmatha”, says Jivan das, Secretary of People for Animal’s Odisha Chapter adding that, “beaches where turtles in thousands do the annual mass nesting are getting squeezed day by day. If this trend continues, the turtles may have no other option but to abandon the beaches of Odisha and look for other destinations”.
While the rise in sea level resulted by the phenomenon of global warming and climate change thereof is believed to be the primary reason of the erosion at Gahirmatha, “back current of the break waters of Paradip Port is (believed to be) the other reason of it. Environmentalists and Geologists are also holding Paradip Port as the cause of rapid coastal erosion of the adjacent beaches. Unfortunately, to accelerate the process of erosion and push the nesting beach to further risk of being rejected by the marine turtles another major port has started operating along Dhamra River Mouth at a distance of just 15 KM northward”, says Jivan Das.
As per a report titled 'Biologicaland Behavioural Aspects of Olive Ridley Turtles along the Orissa Coast of India' brought out in 2009 jointly by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and WII (Wildlife Institute of India), "the mass nesting beach at Gahirmatha has undergone considerable changes in its beach morphology since its discovery in 1974. When first reported, nesting was observed to occur along 15 km of the mainland beach near the Maipura river mouth, from Ekakula to Habalikhati. This beach got fragmented into two, during a cyclonic storm in 1989, following which, mass nesting was restricted to a four km long beach, renamed as the Ekakula Nasi rookery. Again during the 1999 ‘super-cyclone’ that hit the Orissa coast, the Ekakula Nasi further split into few smaller islands. And, presently, mass nesting takes place on these small islands, each less than one km in length".
The report also confirms in the chapter 'Gap Areas of Research on the olive ridley turtles of Orissa' to the fact that nesting has been disturbed because of limited space available to the turtles for their activities where it says, "The foremost issue concerning turtles and the gaps in our knowledge is the cause for the continual decline in the nesting beach area, specifically those of the Nasi islands in the Gahirmatha rookery. Over the years, the nesting beach has become fragmented and considerably reduced in size. This is supported by the failure of the arribada or mass nesting in some years at this rookery. Is this a natural phenomenon especially that the sand bars and spits formed at the river mouth are likely to be dynamic, or is it that the erosive nature of the seas has accelerated as a result of global climate change, or is it that the formation of sand bars and spits becomes erratic as a result of developmental activities in the adjoining areas or due to those happening upstream."
Whatever be the reason, erosion of beaches has resulted in less space for the turtles to do their activities and destruction of the mangrove and coastal vegetation that act as the source of food for the visiting marine turtles.
Another report based on an intensive WII study made by B. C. Chaudhury and Bivas Pandav, titled 'Conservationand Management of olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) in Orissa,India', says, "Between 1990 and 2000 significant geo-morphological changes have taken place at Nasi Island. Over the past decade the Nasi Island has moved nearly 5 km northwards. Studies on morphodynamics of this rookery have revealed that they are under severe stress due to erosion. In 1998, the Nasi Island got fragmented into two parts and since then it has been subjected to further fragmentation resulting in a drastic reduction in space available for the turtles to nest. These islands have presently broken into four parts, two of which are no longer suitable for turtle nesting". The revelation that two parts of Nasi Island "are no longer suitable for turtle nesting" offers with a strong ground to the apprehension that lack of space for nesting and mangrove to meet the food requirements of the adult turtles would force the Olive Ridley sea turtles to reject the beaches of Odisha.
A little southward, situation is no better for these marine turtles visiting the coasts near Devi River Mouth at Astarang in Puri district. The new mouth opened up with the super cyclone of 1999 has just speed up the process of erosion in the coasts near Kadua River Mouth in Astarang that has been playing the role of a major host of mass nesting activities by the marine turtles. “In fact, the erosion is taking place in the nesting beaches near Devi River Mouth and the beach is going harder with the sand layer going thinner”, observes Bichitrananda Biswal of Sea Turtles Action Programme. A thin layer of sand would not allow the turtles with an opportunity to dig a hole in the sand that can carry at least 100 eggs of golf ball size. While the nesting beaches are getting limited, the reef like sand walls just on the sea coast may not attract the turtles to these beaches as the female turtles would not prefer to climb on the vertical sand walls to lay eggs.
While the vulnerability of the particular coast to climate change impacts has increased to an alarming degree and the unique beach is losing its area into the sea because of erosion, Odisha government’s plan for a minor port on Devi River Mouth is just adding further risks to the beach that has been a popular rookery for the Olive Ridley Sea turtles since many years.
Worst, again, is the condition of the other nesting ground at Rushikulya River Mouth that has been the second largest turtle rookery in the state of Odisha, or India one can say as Odisha is the only state blessed with three major nesting grounds for Olive Ridley turtles.
With the river mouth shifting its course northwards, erosion of the beach has been faster since 2007 and the portion where turtles used to lay eggs has been squeezed from 4.5 KM to 200 meters only! “We don’t know how many of the turtles can use this limited space for their nesting activity this year. Even though there is some space in the south of the mouth, we don’t know if the turtles are going to use that space because, so far, the turtles never used that side of the mouth for nesting”, says Rabindra Nath Sahu, Secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee. “Climate Change or the disturbances in the natural phenomena do not only compress the beach but also destroys the coastal ecosystem that offers with a plenty of food to the mother turtles and their hatchlings”, adds Rabindra.
It’s not that the Wildlife Officials of Odisha Government has not sensed the possible dangers to the rookeries from the current trend of climate change. The Principal Chief Conservators of Forest confirms to have knowledge of it. “Wherever the sea coast is damaged, a proper beach is not available. Because if the beach is confined and turtles do not find it conducive to lay egg and if they are not able to dig a hole to lay eggs, they will move from there. Even if new mouths are opened and erosion takes place as it happened with the beach near Gopalpur, the turtles may not find the space what they found last year. This time the space has become limited”, said J. D. Sharma, the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of Odisha. Expressing his apprehension Sharma added that, “Yes, in a long term, this may have some overall impact on the progeny and procreation of some species including that of the Olive Ridley Sea turtle”. But authorities just show their helplessness citing that the issue not being a local one but a global one. 
Apart from natural reasons the nesting ground at Rushikulya River Mouth is also threatened by the sea walls of the nearby Gopalpur Port. Environmentalists and wildlife lovers take the two sea walls of the Port as the reason of rapid erosion that washed away mot part of the rookery. “It’s unfortunate that the Port is planning another sea wall that would just make the little space, now available to the turtles, submerge in the sea”, says Rabindra Nath Sahu condemning the government for its faulty development policies that act as a catalyst in destroying the balance of nature and placing human life, wildlife and the total coastal ecosystem at extreme vulnerability. 
If the coastal erosion continues across the coastline of Odisha at the current pace, the marine turtles would find it difficult to make space for their nesting activity. In such a situation, it’s not wrong or illogical to apprehend that the spectacular view of turtles mating on the sea surface and nesting in mass along the Odisha coast would just become history in a few years’ time. Olive Ridley, the marine specie that has offered Odisha with a special place in the world wildlife map, would reject the coastline of Odisha if it doesn't offer the marine turtle with adequate space and food opportunities. So, it’s high-time for the government, agencies, environment activists and wildlife lovers to take the issue seriously and work in a direction that can minimise the impact of climate change in the coastline and save the beaches with all their features that attract lakhs of sea turtles for mating and nesting.
The article first appeared on January 1, 2012 at the HotnHitNtews

November 29, 2010

The Price of Development: Ports Versus the Turtle Breeding Grounds of Orissa

Though Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are found throughout the world, Orissa – an eastern coastline state of India, is the single largest rookery or breeding ground in the world for these turtles which migrate from the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal every year for mating and nesting. Worshipped by most small fishermen as an incarnation of one of their gods and left alone, the turtles are nevertheless caught as by-catch in gillnets or by trawlers.  How is large scale industrialisation along the coasts going to affect the turtles and the other species in the unique mudflat ecology?  One of the ports, the controversial Dhamra Port, a tie-up between Indian corporate giants Larsen & Toubro and TATA has also been the target of a Greenpeace campaign. 

Famous worldwide for three mass breeding habitats for Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys Olivacea), Orissa may soon have to lose these turtle nesting sites on its coastline. Because of massive industrialisation plans along its 480 km long coastal stretch, the rare turtles may abandon the sites for annual mating and nesting activities if they sense these areas as unsafe and disturbing for breeding.

Unique ecology of Orissa’s coastlines and turtle populations

Orissa’s coastlines are blessed with a unique ecological habitat due to its dynamic coastal systems and its network of large rivers with rich delta systems that pour into the oceans.   According to Dr. Chandra Sekhar Kar, Wildlife Scientist of Orissa Forest and Wildlife Department,The turtles visit three places on Orissa Coast – the Dhamra River Mouth at Gahirmatha, Devi River Mouth at Astarang and the Rusikulya River Mouth.
It’s the sand grain size that enables the turtles dig a hole in the sands to lay eggs inside. The suitability of the  habitat which has a  variety of micro-organisms and thick mangroves to generate feed for lakhs (1 lakh = 1 hundred thousand) of adult turtles and millions of their hatchlings attracts Olive Ridley turtles in such large numbers to  visit the coasts of Orissa for mating and mass nesting. Orissa is quite fortunate to have three such places that have become mass nesting destinations for the marine turtles. However, of course, many of the turtles die while on their journey to the nesting sites or during the time of mating in the Sea.
According to the US based National Marine Fisheries Service, “ In 1991, over 600, 000 turtles nested along the coast of Orissa in one week.”(Wikipedia) Currently, according to Michael Peter, the State Director of WWF, ‘The population that visit the coasts for mass nesting consisting of  female turtles is between 250 – 350 thousand every year. Adding the male population of the marine species that include the groups migrating to the coasts of Orissa as 60% of the female turtles, the number would go beyond five hundred thousand.”
There is already so much apprehension among the international conservationists and wildlife activists who believe that the number of turtle deaths that occur every year in the Orissa coast make the beaches more like turtle graveyards. On an average, more than six thousand turtles die every year along Orissa coasts whereas non-government sources claim the toll to be at least one hundred thousand over the last decade.
While such a large number of deaths of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles across the coastline of Orissa bother wildlife lovers and organisations working for the protection of endangered species, unfortunately government departments and a few agencies working in the areas of nature conservation and wildlife protection in Orissa are not as bothered, saying that the toll is “hardly one to two percent of the total Olive Ridley population that visit the three nesting grounds on the coasts of Orissa.”
They fail to see that total numbers of the turtles which have been declared an endangered species have declined rapidly over the last two decades.

Effects of Trawler fishing on small fishermen

Whatever steps government has taken for the safety of turtles are definitely not sufficient as the dead shells are being washed ashore in huge numbers every season.
While the turtles are not safe in the sea, the fishing communities living around the nesting sites have ironically been the worst victims of the short term safety measures taken by the government. As fishing in the sea is banned during the peak fishing season in the name of turtle safety, thousands of fishermen families turn jobless for more than six months and face serious livelihood problems. So far, the government has not done any thing to resolve their livelihood related issues. Finding no other options to earn a livelihood for the families, many of the fishermen have committed suicide.
Traditional fishermen consider turtles as an incarnation of god and worship them. They neither consume turtle eggs nor its meat. In fact, it is the shrimp trawlers owned by large business houses and influential  politicians or those with political affiliations who are the major culprits, flouting the rules continuously.

More ports?

The Orissa Government’s plan for about thirteen new ports along the coast line in close proximity to the turtle nesting beaches could endanger the species further.
WWF State Director Michel Peter concurs “We are really concerned about so many of the ports are being permitted to up along the coast. There will be definitely some impacts on the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. In order to minimise the impact we are discussing with the Government of Orissa and we hope for some kind of solution regarding this.”
The largest among all new ports planned in Orissa is the one on the Dhamra Mouth that is about to become operative soon. Built and to be managed by Dhamra Port Company Ltd (DPCL) – a subsidiary of TATA Group, Dhamra port is located at an aerial distance of about 15 km from the noted turtle nesting site at Gahirmatha.
The proposed port side is a unique ecological habitat with long stretches of inter-tidal mudflats from the site to the river mouth. This intertidal zone according to Greenpeace’s 2007 Biodiversity assessment report stretches as wide as 2 kilometers and are an important breeding ground for several marine creatures. 
Even though Environmental Impact Assesssment (EIA) 1997  report said that the port is not going to deter the turtles from nesting at their usual site, local people and environment experts say that the river mouth that is to be used by the port as the main channel happens to be the route for turtle movement to and from Gahirmatha. They believe that once the port becomes operative, the underwater vibration during the ship movement which may detract or deter the turtles from coming to the nesting site. If that happens, Gahirmatha would be abandoned by the turtles for nesting activities. [Please see footnotes for the impact of other ports] 

Biodiversity assessment:

In terms of biodiversity, Orissa is one of India’s richest states, but according to Greenpeace’s 2007 Biodiversity assessment report, it’s also the least studied and catalogued.  According to the Greenpeace’s backgrounder , the Environment Impact Assessment study was undertaken in 1997, with L&T and Singapore based International Seaports Ltd as major stakeholders in the Dhamra port project. However the port site was on Kanika sands which is now on the mainland. The initial proposed capacity was 20 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) with a ship handling capacity of 120,000 deadweight tons (dwt) whereas the proposed capacity now is 83 mtpa, and 180,000 dwt respectively.
In July 2004, the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee recommended, “The present site (Dhamra) will seriously impact Gahirmatha’s nesting turtles and could lead to the beach being abandoned by the marine creatures. It is therefore necessary that an alternative site is located for this port.”
Given that no comprehensive Environment Impact Analysis (EIA) has ever been done for the current project, and the major flaws in the 1997 EIA report which include “poor baseline ecological data, a complete omission of the impacts on turtles, impacts of noise and chemical pollution and a poor hazard analysis and emergency plan.”

Balancing Development, the Precautionary Principle and the Turtles

As a member of the UN’s Global Compact, TATA Steel is honour bound to abide by the Precautionary Principle, which according to the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, Preamble is explained as: “Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.”
Several engineering options exist such as the more technologically advanced offshore ports. Are industries and the State prepared to pay a higher price for development to ensure the safety of the marine creatures?
Going ahead with the port construction regardless of the environmental impact would certainly help bring some revenue to the state and make a few corporate houses thrive on the coasts of Orissa, but the state is going to be blamed globally for being failed to protect the breeding habitats of the endangered marine turtle species. If the state wants to have the both, it must urgently rework its plan of development through the ports.
Otherwise, in a few years, the tradition of mass nesting by Olive Ridley Sea Turtles will become history for the state of Orissa.


The other ports that would also affect the annual activities of the turtles are the ports planned at Astarang, Gopalpur and the other at Chudamani near Basudevpur. While Basudevpur Port is a minor port at a few Kilometers from the Dhamra Port, the other Port to be built at Astaranga is planned on the mouth of Devi River where lakhs of turtle visit every year to mate and nest. Devi River mouth is also known as the movement track of bottle-nose dolphins who often visit the mouth in groups.
The other mass nesting site at Rushikulya River mouth is going to face the worst impacts of Gopalpur port and the green port planned at Palur. While the port would come up just before the turtle movement track, ‘the pollution and possible ecological impacts of the port would make the coast unsuitable for breeding. And, the worst impact would be that the port would accelerate the process of erosion of the coast’, says Biswajit Mohanty, leading wildlife activist and member of National Wildlife Board, India.
Coastal erosion is again another issue in Astarang where Bay of Bengal has already submerged over 5 km of human habitations in last 30 years. A port on Devi River mouth would help further and fast erosion.
Mass plantation near the ports along the coast to minimise the impact of pollution or recreate the mangrove destroyed during building of the port infrastructure will not work. In fact the impact would be more fatal to the turtles. “With extensive planting of Casuarinas trees all along the coast, there may not be suitable beaches for turtles to nest sporadically. The Devi rookery is reported to have lost prime turtle nesting beach due to plantation activities. There is an additional problem in case of the sporadic nests and that is related to predation. Nearly 95 % of the sporadic nests recorded along a 25 km coastline along the Rushikulya rookery in 2007 nesting season were observed predated by feral dogs and jackals. It is believed that the dense Casuarinas plantations support high predator numbers’, says the WII fact sheet on turtle behaviour and activities.
The report first appeared on November 26, 2010, at the Eco Walk The talk