TRAGEDY: It was a quest to bring the new generation into this world that led to the death of 800 rare and endangered Olive Ridley Turtles in a beach in southern India. The turtles are known to make their yearly voyage to the east coast Indian peninsula to breed and lay eggs in some of the world’s biggest nesting sites of the species. But this year the breeding sites in Nellore in Andhra Pradesh turned into a mass graveyard when the turtles became victims of trawling boats.

Olive Ridley Turtles found dead in coastal city of Andhra Pradesh, India. Image courtesy The Hindu

N.V. Sivarama Prasad, District Forest Officer, Nellore, said such large-scale deaths of Olive Ridley turtles had not been reported from the Andhra Pradesh coast in the recent past. The death of the rare turtles was reported on Tuesday.

Supraja Dharini of TREE Foundation, an organisation involved in Olive Ridley conservation, said that in the Nellore area, the number of turtle deaths had already touched 300 since the beginning of the new year. Last year, during the corresponding period, only 96 turtles had died.

According to her in other parts of the east coast too, turtle deaths has almost doubled in last one year. 155 turtles have been reported dead on the stretch between Napier Bridge and Marakkanam since the beginning of this season in December.

During the entire nesting season (December to March) last year, the total deaths were not more than 190, she said.

Trawling to Death

The main reason for the increase in death of the rare species of turtles is the rising use of wide-mesh net by trawlers used by fishermen in the area. As per Mr. Prasad, earlier the local fishermen used only gill nets that did not pose a problem to the turtles.

“The trawlers are supposed to fish beyond eight kilometres [five miles] from the coast. But we found out that this time they were fishing in less than four kilometres from the beach to catch shrimps. As a result, many turtles got entangled in the nets,” said Dr. Dharini.

The mass death brings the number of adult olive ridley turtles drastically down in marine waters. Being a rare species, it is indeed a species that needs added care and attention especially when they are known to come back to the same shores year after year for breeding and nesting.

Olive Ridley Turtles taken for mass burial. Image by TREE Foundation courtesy BBC

The carcasses were later buried in five-foot deep pits.

More About the Olive Ridley Turtle

Common Name – Olive Ridley Turtle

Scientific Name –Lepidochelys olivacea

IUCN Red List Status – Vulnerable

Fast Facts –

  • It is the smallest of the marine turtles.
  • It can be distinguished from the closely related Kemp’s ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) by the possession of more than five bony plates, or scutes, running the length of the carapace; Kemp’s ridley has only five.
  • Known for their remarkable mass nesting phenomenon when thousands of female turtles arrive at pre-destined beaches to nest, the event is known as ‘arribada’ meaning ‘mass arrival’ in Spanish.
  • Largest nesting sites are found in Mexico, Costa Rica and Orrisa coast of India.
  • Incidental by-catch during fishing, excessive development of coastal areas are two of important threats that are leading to the death of the turtles and loss of their habitat.

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Reference Reference

About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

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