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Development at ecology's cost

 


THE PIONEER
28 March 2012

Prerna Singh Bindra

Protecting our bio-diversity is as important as kick-starting our sluggish economy

March 2012, on a night alit with the moon and the stars, a remote, barren beach at the sea-mouth of river Rushikulya in Odisha bursts to life. Olive Ridleys — amongst the rarest sea turtles of the world, thousands of them, their bodies glistening in the pale moonlight as they advance on the beach — arrive, sometimes bumping into each other, in their entranced frenzy to find suitable nesting sites. Legend says, and science agrees, that female turtles come back to the natal beach where they were born to create new life.

Using their flippers, they laboriously dig holes to lay eggs. It’s hard work, and ever so often they pause as if for a breather, gather strength, then sigh deeply, and continue their arduous task. Once the funnel —  almost as deep as a bathing bucket — is ready, they lay eggs, a perfect ‘O’, like shiny, slippery table tennis balls, then fill the nest with sand, carefully thumping their bodies, rocking from side to side to seal and secure the eggs. With a multitude of turtles employed in the task, the air fills with an earthy drumming sound, in a remarkable ritual as ancient as time. Fittingly, it is referred to as Arribada, Spanish for ‘the arrival’. The mass nesting of Olive Ridleys is considered to be one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles, up there with the great wild beast migration in the Serengeti. Odisha — indeed India — is blessed to have among the last nesting grounds of this rare turtle, annually attracting  thousands of these creatures to Rushikulya and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, an isolated beach on the Bay of Bengal. But we don’t particularly feel blessed; there is little support for the turtle beyond the cosmetic.

Legally, Olive Ridleys enjoy maximum protection, but what use is law if it’s not implemented effectively? Thousands of turtles get butchered by mechanised fishing trawlers as they get hopelessly entangled in gill nets or dragged along by trawl nets, only for the corpses to be tossed back in. Turtles are ‘waste by-products’ of fishing.


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