on the Eastern Coast

by Ar. Shakti Nanda

 We created concrete jungles after flattening thick forests and eventually felt lost in the quarantined world we had created. And guess what we did to rejuvenate ourselves? We headed to the forests in search of solace! Ironic, isn’t it?? It’s not just the woods that have borne the brunt of our so-called development but also the delicate ecological balance of flora & fauna that thrives around it.

Odisha is fortunate to have a rich variety of wildlife, which doesn’t necessarily typify the effort that has gone into conservation. However, some species have been more fortunate than the others, owing to their ‘endangered’ tag!
‘Arribada’ means mass landing or mass arrival in Spanish. Arribada literally justifies it’s meaning when over half a million Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) gather up for mass nesting on the coastlines of Odisha in the first quarter of every year. This phenomenon is most significant at Rushikulya and Gahirmatha coastlines. Arribada is a unique nesting phenomenon shown by this pelagic species, Olive Ridley turtle, to increase the survival rate of their offspring. It is believed that these smallest sea turtles follow the logic of ‘predator swamping’. They deposit adequate eggs in one place at one time to outnumber the consumption of predators. This enhances the survival rate of their off springs. Each female turtle lays around 110 to 140 eggs at a time. It is believed that out of 1000 hatchlings that enter the sea, only 1 survives to reach adulthood. This poor survival rate has put them under the IUCN Redlist.

According to Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Berhampur, S S Mishra, the preparation for Arribada takes place a year in advance. Forest Department, ICZMP (Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project) & WWF (World Wide Fund) have deployed experts and experienced local volunteers from the villages to monitor the activities of the turtle’s arrival in the sea up to 20 kilometers from the coasts in a systematic and structured manner using modern
equipment and speed boats.

The local villagers know the importance of these turtles, thanks to different awareness and training programs conducted by the NGOs in these villages at regular intervals. They readily came forward to help, as always. Mechanical fishing remains prohibited during this time & local fishermen are compensated by the Department of Fisheries. Industries nearby, dim down their lights to minimize the distraction & help to motivate the village youth for the cause.

Plastic hexagonal net fencing is done to keep land predators and tourists at bay and also to prevent the turtles from entering into the houses of local villagers.

I remained in touch with my Rushikulya friends who work as volunteers for the Forest Department since I wanted to capture some good pictures of Olive Ridleys, which had eluded me till now.

“Sir, today the wind is blowing from south. If we are lucky enough we can see thousands of turtle heads popping up in the sea from the shore, so please come down,” ‘Magata’, a friend from Rushikulya, informed. I immediately wrapped up for the day and geared up to spending the night at the beach but Magata called up again, ‘Nai Sir, aasani, bad weather, barsaa hauchi, aaji habani (it wouldn’t happen today, bad weather and it’s raining too). This happened thrice, as I surrendered my excitement to nature and decided to wait and let it happen instead. Arribada is unpredictable; no one can say when it will happen or whether it shall happen at all.

Rushikulya rookeries are around 150 Kms from Bhubaneswar & it takes about 2 and half hours by road. So, I decided to wait for the next call.

With only a week left, professional commitments and priorities mounting, late that nightmy phone buzzed again, Magata called me up from Rushikulya. ‘Sir, aasigale, jaldi aasa’ (they have arrived, come quickly). I replied, “Okay, I’m coming” and I was there by 4.30am the next morning!

You cannot imagine my expression from there on.

The pink orangish sky mixed with blue hues, uncountable turtles emerging and disappearing in to the golden blue waves, the trails of their flippers all over the rookery, I couldn’t ask for more. All of us started clicking for about an hour while my son witnessed the phenomenon. It was a great experience of witnessing the biggest Arribada on the beaches of Rushikulya. Officially 3,10,000 turtles laid eggs this year and it’s the highest ever recorded. This is more than one third of the total estimated nesting female population which isaround 8,00,000. Thanks to the forest department, villagers, NGOs, scientists, volunteers and the industries too who have been constantly working on improvising their efforts year by year to host the Arribada

The villagers have realized the value of these turtles and the youth take care of any opportunistic money makers who risk the success of Arribada. It is also imperative to create more awareness about the turtles amongst the children so that they can grow up to work towards the conservation of these turtles. ❏

Data References:
Census Techniques of Arribada
by Kartik Shanker, B.C. Choudhury& Chandrasekhar Kar
The Odyssey of the Olive Ridley(Nature Watch )
Kartik Shanker
Estimating Arribada Size Using a Modified Instantaneous Count Procedure
Charles E. GATES, Roldhn A. VALVERDE, Claudette L. M o, Ana C. CHA VES, Jorge
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (LepidochelysOlivacea)5-Year
Review: Summary And Evaluation
National Marine Fisheries Service Office Of Protected Resources Silver Spring,
Maryland And U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Southeast Region Jacksonville Ecological
Services Field Office Jacksonville, Florida

Comments are closed.