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The graveyard of the turtles

By Prafulla Das

BHUBANESWAR, MARCH 26. The Orissa coast is known to be the world's largest nesting site of the Olive Ridley turtles. It is now fast acquiring the label of the largest graveyard of the endangered species of sea turtles.

The sandy beaches are today littered with the carcasses of more than 6,000 turtles that have fallen victim to illegal mechanised fishing.

Biswajit Mohanty of Operation Kachhapa said: "More than 700 egg-bearing female turtles have been counted dead on the beaches near the Devi river mouth during the past few days. These turtles were about to nest in a few days time at this nesting beach."

More than 1,10,000 sea turtles have been killed on the State's coast in the last 11 years.

The casualty figures have been high at the river mouth this month. The observers of Operation Kachhapa counted 591 dead turtles at the river mouth on March 22 alone, according to Mr. Mohanty.

The stench from putrefying turtle carcasses hits the senses all along this 15-km stretch of the beach from Kadua river to the Devi river mouth.

According to Mr. Mohanty, this negates the claims of the State Government that steps are being taken for turtle protection. Almost all the dead turtles were female, and their eggs had spilled out on to the sand. Marauding dogs and jackals fed on the eggs.

Mr. Mohanty said that patrolling at the Devi river mouth had stopped a few weeks ago owing to lack of funds. Without fuel, the Fisheries Department boats lay idle.

The Forest Department personnel lack firearms and wireless sets. No permanent police squad has been provided to carry out sea patrols.

A fact-finding team of the central empowered committee (CEC) set up by the Supreme Court visited the nesting sites last month to ascertain the level of implementation of the court's orders for the protection of sea turtles.

The CEC had ordered intensive patrolling off the three mass nesting sites at the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and the Devi and Rushikulya river mouths to protect the turtles.

The Olive Ridley is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. However, in the absence of effective enforcement of the laws, hundreds of trawlers and gill-netters work within the prohibited fishing zones, killing the turtles.

The government continues to be apathetic. Funds received for buying fast patrol boats remain unspent, while dilapidated trawlers are used in a half-hearted manner for patrolling by the Forest and Fisheries departments in some places, Mr. Mohanty said.

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