Thousands of Olive Ridley turtles have arrived at the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. More turtles expected.
Every year, during the months of February and March, the Indian state of Odisha witnesses a spectacular phenomenon of Olive Ridley turtle arribada (Spanish for arrival). Each year, the Olive Ridley sea turtles come to the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in Odisha for nesting on the Nasi-1 and Nasi- 2 islands. This sanctuary, which is the world's largest rookery for the sea turtles, is situated inside the Bhitarkanika National Park of the Kendrapara district.
An arribada of Olive Ridley Turtles
Much to the delight of turtle enthusiasts, the Olive Ridley turtles have started arriving at the coast of Odisha from the night of March 9. The range officer for the marine sanctuary confirmed that until now a total of 5,000 turtles have arrived. He also went on to add that last year, over four lakh turtles laid eggs at this sanctuary.
The divisional forest officer of the park explains that female turtles take 20 years to reach sexual maturity and produce eggs. He also adds that there is a fair chance that the turtles that hatched on this very beach in the past are now returning to nest on this beach. The female turtles can hold the fertilised inside their bodies for up to 2 years. And so, they are very specific about where they lay their eggs. The Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands are small islands that stretch approximately 5 kilometres. They are mostly free from human habitation and hence a preferred nesting ground among the turtles.
During the month of March, the beach here is dotted with thousands of nesting Olive Ridley turtles. This leaves little to no space for other turtles to lay eggs. To protect the already endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle species, the State Government is known to impose a ban on all kinds of fishing activities inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary for seven months - from November 1 to May 31.
The turtle arrival will continue for a week. The Gahirmatha rookery covers an area of 1,435 square kilometres and was declared a marine sanctuary in 1997. The Olive Ridley sea turtle is the smallest of all the turtle species. These turtles are globally distributed and are abundantly found in the Indian Ocean.
About the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary
The Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary is the only turtle sanctuary in Odisha and is a popular place to spot the Olive Ridley turtles. This sanctuary extends north to south from Dhamara river mouth to Brahmani river mouth. Considering its diversity and ecological significance, this zone has been a popular turtle nesting spot for decades. Some experts say that the Olive Ridley turtles travel from the Indian Ocean to reach the coastal waters of Gahirmatha, via Sri Lanka. Visitors can also take a boat ride across the river to venture into the sea to see the turtles in their natural habitat.
Other Olive Ridley Turtle Nesting Sites in India
Apart from the Gahirmatha beach, there are a few more nesting grounds that the Olive Ridley sea turtles come to in India. These places include:
- Rushikulya River Mouth, Odisha - Situated in Odisha's Ganjam district, the Rushikulya River Mouth is a river beach estuary which is created as a result of the Rushikulya river emptying in the Bay of Bengal at the Puruna Bandha. After Gahirmatha, the Rushikulya River Mouth is the next best place to spot these marine turtles. Last year, the beach saw the arrival of more than a lakh turtles, and the numbers are expected to rise this year. The Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, along with the State Government, has taken several measures to ensure that no turtles are harmed during their nesting period.
- Devi River Mouth, Odisha - Devi River, a tributary of the Mahanadi, joins the Bay of Bengal in the Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha. This, along with Rambha, are well-known nesting sites for the Olive Ridley turtles in India.
- Marina Beach, Chennai - Along with the Marina Beach in Chennai, officials have set up hatcheries at beaches at Besant Nagar, Neelankarai, Kovalam and Pulicat in Tiruvallur district which will serve as nesting grounds for the Olive Ridley turtles.
- Velas Beach, Ratnagiri - Velas Turtle Festival happens every year in the month of March in the district of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra where the turtles come for nesting. The festival is organised by the locals in an attempt to help the conservation of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.