|Development at ecology's cost
28 March 2012
Prerna Singh Bindra
Protecting our bio-diversity is as important as kick-starting our sluggish economy
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.