The enthusiasm among wildlife lovers and conservationists about the 270,000-odd Olive Ridley turtles that arrived at the Gahirmatha beach in Orissa may be short lived ( Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 21). According to the state wildlife department officials, over 25 per cent of the turtles' eggs have been destroyed due to high tidal waves in early April. The worst affected region was Nasi-II, one of the islands on the Gahirmatha coast. Besides, erosion of soil in Nasi-II has also destroyed a large number of eggs. However, the eggs laid on Nasi-I island have not been affected. On an average, one turtle lays between 100 and 120 eggs.

The wildlife department and voluntary agencies working towards preservation of the turtles have raised concern over the washing away of the eggs, as the survival rate of the baby turtle is very low. Even during normal breeding season, only one out of 1,000 hatchlings reaches full adulthood.

During the last two years, a campaign was launched against illegal fishing trawlers which were largely responsible for turning away the turtles from the Gahirmatha beach. A high-level committee headed by the former Orissa chief minister had declared that the use of turtle excluder device (TED), equipment which does not disturb the turtles during fishing, was compulsory for all the trawlers. No nesting had taken place during 1997 and 1998. During March 1998, over 15,000 turtles were killed by trawlers. Another reason due to which the turtles were said to be avoiding the Gahirmatha coast was the use of bright lights by fisherfolk.

However, Biswajeet Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa is hopeful that the situation will improve once the high tide period is over. On an average, it takes about 45 days for the hatchling to emerge from the egg. But this year, due to an increase in temperatures, it may take less time, said Mohanty.

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