The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

The Balighai beach is a beautiful pristine place to be. Located 8 kilometers away, on the northeastern side of Puri, it is on the mouth of the Nuanai River. The confluence can be seen on the Konark-Puri Marine Drive and I stopped there on my way back from Konark. The long, smooth stretch of golden sands was too tempting to pass by on the river and in the sea at an alluring embrace. Not a single soul could be seen on the beach, and it’s a pleasant break after the crowd at Konark temples. 

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But as they say, because of the first impression, because the Balighai beach upon my reaching there, turned out to be a graveyard for turtles. The carcasses lay as far as eyes could see and the pathetic bodies were mostly beheaded. It was a shocking sight, one made in my track and made a hasty exit from there. The shocking sight haunted me for many days, and I decided to do some research to find out the reason. The truth turned out to be a horrible tale of human greed, misinformed bureaucrats, and twisted government policies.

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The Balighai beach is a nesting site for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. Pairs of mating sea turtles arriving on sea waters, mark the start of the breeding and nesting season of these endangered marine creatures. The mating season ends with most of the male turtles returning, leaving behind the female turtles to lay their eggs. The female turtles on the beach at night.

After the mass egg laying, the turtles return to the sea, leaving the hatchlings to emerge after 45-60 days, sans mother. An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs at a time, but not all become hatchlings. The mortality rate of these endangered species is quite high and the eggs have many predators. High tides so wash away many eggs in the sea and the alarming plight do not end there.

During the mating season, when the turtles come close to the beach, most of them get entangled in the gills and the asphyxiation. 20 minutes from the beach.

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Olive Ridley’s the biggest killer of the Odisha is a silent one and most of these endangered marine creatures are from ghost nets. A huge threat, which is creating a massacre in the marine world everywhere, ghost nets are fishing lost or discarded at sea. Every year, these animals are responsible for trapping and killing millions of marine animals, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans, and birds.

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Since ghost nets drift with ocean currents for years, travelling huge distances, their deadly effects can be felt from the point of origin. Ghost fishing for killing marine animals in a process called “ghost fishing”. The entanglement in ghost nets often results in suffocation, starvation, amputations of limbs, and, eventually, the death of a marine animal.

A drifting ghost net entangled with a carcass sinks to the bottom of the ocean. On the sea floor, other marine animals and natural decomposition get rid of the carcass, after which the ghost net floats back to repeat the deadly cycle. The durability of modern fishing nets enhances the longevity of this circle of destruction and Indian coastline, especially in the east is strewn with these remnants.

Ironically, Oliver Ridley sea turtles have a peculiar nesting habit. The females Olive Ridley turtles return in large numbers to the same beaches from which they first hatched. Odisha unbroken coastline is the largest nesting site for Oliver Ridley turtles in the world and here is hoping that someone out there pays attention before the state loses its important marine heritage. 

Author – Svetlana Baghwan

svetlana Svetlana is a mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover. An ex-flight attendant living in Cairo, Egypt, she has explored more than 35 countries as a solo woman traveler. Experiencing and exploring are her passion and she loves to tell stories. More about Svetlana here: http://www.maverickbird.com/

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