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Which Beaches do Olive Ridley Turtles Nest in India

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The moment I saw these cute little turtle babies walking towards the ocean, I was in love. The sun was setting and they were being released into the waters of Indian Ocean. I was a little scared as they looked so tiny but then I realized how natural it was. They were going home. I kept looking until the last of them went inside the ocean riding a large wave.

The Olive Ridley turtles are one of the smallest and the most abundant of all sea turtles in the world. They live in the warm waters of Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Each turtle has an olive colored carapace from which they get the name ‘Olive Ridley’. The turtles grow to about 2 feet in length, and weigh about 50 kg. They spend their entire lives in the ocean, and migrate thousands of kilometers between feeding and mating grounds in the course of a year.

Olive Ridley turtles are known for their mass nesting called Arribada (it means arrival in Spanish). Thousands of female turtles come together to lay eggs on the same beach. They dig a one and a half feet deep pit or nest. A single female can lay upto 100 to 150 eggs in these pits. A very interesting thing to note is that females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched; kind of returning back to their motherland. After six weeks, the eggs begin to hatch and newly hatched babies start their journey to the ocean.

Arribada
Source: https://www.nativeplanet.com/

This trek is not the easiest as these turtles are exposed to predators like jackals, birds, hyenas, fiddler crabs, and dogs lurking around, waiting to feed on them. The survival rate inside the sea is also very low. It is estimated that approximately 1 hatchling survives to reach adulthood for every 1000 hatchlings that enter the sea waters. Mass nesting happens to increase the survival rate and the same logic applies to why females lay huge number of eggs in a season.

Human activities are also a serious threat to the Olive Ridleys. They are extensively poached for eggs, meat, shell and leather and have large illegal markets around the coastal regions. Therefore, their numbers have been declining over the past few years, and the species is recognized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red list. The government is taking measures all around the world to protect the turtles. In India, it is protected under Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Moreover, trading in its products are banned under CITES.

The government with the help of local organizations has also taken measures for the safety of eggs and turtle babies. Artificial fences are created around the nesting sites. The eggs are collected from the nests and are laid in similar pits which are artificially created inside an enclosed protected area and usually covered with a cane basket. This helps in protecting and patrolling the eggs till they hatch. As the hatching period comes closer, the nests are checked daily for any early hatchlings and then the babies are returned to the sea.

India has the largest mass nesting site in the world. I have listed the places below where Olive ridley turtles are found:

Turtles in North Korea
Source: https://www.nativeplanet.com/

Orissa: The coast of Orissa in India is the largest mass nesting site for the Olive ridley in the world. February and March is the time when thousands of turtles travel to Orissa and mass nesting happens. There are many fishing villages near the nesting sites and sometimes there are accidental killings of adult turtles through entanglement in trawl nets and gill nets due to uncontrolled fishing. The Orissa government has been educating the local fishermen and has made it mandatory for trawls to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), a net specially designed with an exit cover which allows the turtles to escape while retaining the catch.

The major nesting sites in Orissa are:

1. Gahirmatha Beach– Gahirmatha beach of Odisha is largest mass nesting site for the olive ridley turtles in India. The Gahirmatha rookery is located in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary at the mouth of the Maipura and Dhamra rivers. Covered with mangroves on one side, and Bay of Bengal on the other side the beach remains pretty secluded all year round.

2. Rushikulaya River mouth- Rushikulya is situated in the Ganjam district of Odisha along the Bay of Bengal. The river flows from the Daringbadi hill station and meets the Bay of Bengal at Puruna Bandha in Ganjam, creating Rushikulya river beach estuary where nesting takes place.

3. Ratnagiri, Maharashtra: Velas is a small eco-village in Ratnagiri district which is famous for Olive Ridley turtles that visit the Velas beach every year to lay eggs. In March, the sleepy little village is filled with tourists who come here to witness the Velas turtle festival. The festival takes place every year and has been getting popular both nationally and internationally. An NGO named Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra has started the conservation of the turtles which is now undertaken by the villagers. Seeing the newly hatched turtles taking their first steps towards the big blue sea is a heartwarming sight.

Ratnagiri, Maharashtra
Source: https://www.livemint.com/

4. Chennai, Tami Nadu: Marina Beach in Chennai is a home for many Olive Ridleys. This 6 km long beach has many sections which serve as a nesting site for the turtles. The government and other organizations work together for the conservation of the turtles as there has been a high mortality rate in last few years. Tourism has also affected the beach as the plastic debris hinders the turtle nesting. The Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network [SSTCN] is a one of the organizations, mainly comprising students who have been working in the beaches of Chennai. They patrol the beaches at night looking for the eggs and place them in the department’s hatchery.

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