March 19: The Olive Ridleys are olive-green coloured sea-turtles that have existed for more than 200 million years. The Gahirmatha beach in Orissa is one of their nesting sites, but unfortunately the fishermen have started catching these turtles for meat to sell in the local market.
This has alarmed environmentalists. Nature lover and scientist, BR Ray says that this trend will surely lead to the extinction of the turtles.
Thousands of female ridleys travel thousands of kilometres to lay their eggs at Gahirmatha beach. The beach also happens to be one of the four large nesting sites for Olive Ridleys in the world. The others are found in the tropical Pacific, Indian and the South Atlantic Oceans.
Like other sea turtles, Olive Ridleys too have a peculiarity. The females are in the habit of returning to nest on the same beach as the one they were born on. The important breeding grounds are the Eastern Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Nesting takes place on the shores near the mouths of rivers or estuaries.
An article in the The Telegraph recently reports that no efforts are being made to save the turtles. Though conservationists have been making efforts to protect the rigleys, the Orissa state government is looking the other way. Fishermen in the Digha and Ramnagar villages sell the turtle’s flesh for a mere Rs 20 (a quarter of a dollar) a kilogram.
Being absurdly cheap compared to mutton, which costs more than twice the amount, this poor man’s meat is becoming a popular option. Turtle meat not only sells like hot cakes, but also adds to the earnings of these fishermen
The fishermen claim that several of these turtles or baligars as they call them, get caught in the net along with the rest of the fish. However, it seems obvious that the fishermen are reluctant to throw the creatures back into the sea. The excuse they give is that it is a waste of time to sort out so many turtles from the other fish!
This year the Olive Ridleys have arrived in large numbers in the deep seas near Orissa as they forage for food even 200 meters under the sea. Olive Ridleys love eating jellyfish, shrimp, clams, sea weed, shells and small fish, which they crush between strong jaws.
Fishing Olive Ridley turtles is illegal in the state. But as the turtles are amphibians (able to survive on land and in water), the fishermen have found ways to keep the turtles hidden for a long time. They often tie the trapped animals to the cots in their houses or drop them in ponds with their legs tied up.
Now forest officials have put up large hoardings on the beaches of Digha, warning people against catching turtles. But it doesn’t look like many people are listening.