‘Operation Olivia’ to the rescue of Olive Ridleys
Coast Guard helps enforce laws to protect turtles when they arrive to nest in Odisha
Each year, the Indian Coast Guard’s Operation Olivia, launched in the early 1980s, helps protect olive ridley turtles as they congregate along the Odisha coast to breed and nest from November through December.
“For best results, 24 hour surveillance is carried out from November to May using Coast Guard assets such as fast patrol boats, air cushion vessels, interceptors and Dornier planes to enforce regulations. laws near rookeries, âsaid a Coast Guard officer. âFrom November 2020 to May 2021, the Coast Guard spent 225 ship days and 388 flight hours protecting 3.49 lakh of turtles that laid eggs along the Odisha coast. “
The Olive Ridley (LepidochÃ©lys olivacea) is listed as vulnerable in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The five species of marine turtles found in India are listed in Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and Schedule I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora extinction (CITES), which prohibits trade in turtle products by signatory countries. Odisha has also formulated laws to protect olive ridley turtles and the Orissa Sea Fisheries Act empowers the Coast Guard to become one of its enforcement agencies.
“Studies have found three main factors that damage olive ridley turtles and their eggs: heavy predation on eggs by dogs and wildlife, indiscriminate fishing with trawlers and gillnets, and soil erosion on beaches,” said the officer.
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Dense fishing activity along the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, especially ocean trawlers, mechanized fishing boats and gillnets, poses a serious threat to turtles.
Coordination of efforts takes place at different levels, the officer explained, including by enforcing the use of turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) by trawlers in waters adjacent to nesting areas; prohibit the use of gillnets when turtles approach the shore; and reducing turtle poaching.
The Olive Ridley has one of the most extraordinary nesting habits in the natural world, including mass nesting called arribadas. The 480 km long Odisha coast has three arribada beaches at Gahirmatha, the mouth of the Devi River, and Rushikulya, where about 1 lakh of nests are found each year.
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More recently, a new mass nesting site has been discovered in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with more than 5,000 nests reported in one season, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries.
“Sea turtles usually return to their native beach, or where they were born, to lay eggs as adults,” said the coast guard officer. Mating takes place in the waters off breeding grounds and females then come ashore to nest, usually several times during a season. They crawl on the ground, dig a flask-shaped nest about 1.5 to 2 feet deep, and lay 100 to 150 eggs in each clutch. Newborns emerge from their nests together after about seven to ten weeks.
âBetween the arrival of the mother and the retreat of the newborns to the sea, they go through various challenges. It is estimated that only one in a thousand survives to adulthood, âadded the officer.