Wednesday, Dec 17, 2003
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By Prafulla Das
``At least 1,000 turtles have been killed in less than two months,'' said Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, a non-governmental initiative for sea turtle conservation. An estimated 1,11,000 turtles have been counted dead on the State's shoreline in the past 11 years. As many as 190 dead turtles were counted by the second week of this month at the Devi river mouth, one of the three major nesting sites on the coast. ``On some days, up to 40 dead turtles land at the beach,'' Mr. Mohanty said.
The Olive Ridleys, which arrived on the Orissa coast in October, started mating in mid-November. December and January are the cruellest months for them, when their lives are cut short by the blades or gill nets of the mechanised trawlers that scour the coast. But even as the bodies hit the coast, the authorities are yet to wake up. Sea patrolling by Forest Department guards is yet to start at the Devi river mouth.
``Unless patrolling starts in the Devi river mouth area, there will be heavy turtle casualties,'' Mr. Mohanty warned. ``A single gill net can kill hundreds.'' About 70 trawlers were fishing in the prohibited area close to the shore these days, he said.
The only nesting area where a semblance of patrolling was visible was the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, the largest rookery of the sea turtles.
Four fishing trawlers were seized here by the patrolling staff of the Rajnagar Wildlife Division from Gahirmatha last month. At the Rushikulya river mouth, the forest guards have just moved in. ``It is important that the State Fisheries Department recognises the imminent threat faced by the turtles due to the non-use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) by the fishing trawlers,'' Mr. Mohanty said.
The Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act, 1982 prohibits mechanised fishing within 5 km of the coastline and makes it mandatory for trawlers to use TEDs.
Taking note of the turtle slaughter, the Central Empowered Committee, assigned by the Supreme Court, ordered in March 2003 that the State Government adopt measures for their protection, including the compulsory use of TEDs and round-the-clock patrolling at Gahirmatha, the Devi river mouth and the Rushikulya river mouth.
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