Illegal fishing is perhaps one of the greatest threat to Olive Ridley turtles in India. The Olive Ridley Turtle is a Schedule 1 species under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, and it is listed as ‘endangered’ in the IUCN Red Data Book, and CITES’ Appendix-I. As a signatory to all these treaties, India is responsible for conserving this species of sea turtle, as well as its nesting beaches, breeding, congregation regions, and migratory corridors in the sea.
Olive Ridley sea turtles flock to the Odisha coast in great numbers to lay their eggs and their mass nesting grounds are popularly referred as ‘arribada.’ Because nearly half of the world’s population of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) nest on Odisha’s coast, conservation efforts of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles in India has received global attention. Shallow bays near river mouths create good feeding grounds for Olive Ridley turtles from the months of October to early July. The known major breeding sites in Odisha where such congregations occur are along the river mouths of the Dhamra, Devi, and Rushikulya rivers.
Under the watchful eye of the Forest Department and the Indian Coast Guard, patrols are conducted on beaches to prevent illegal harvesting of turtle eggs and to prevent fishermen from deploying monofilament gill nets in the “no-fishing zone” near the river mouths and coastal waters where turtles arrive for 4 months to lay eggs. Sections 2, 7, and 4 of the Odisha Marine Fishing Regulation Act (OMFRA), 1982, as well as provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, are used to impose the no-fishing ban every year. The Odisha government bans fishing for seven months from November 1 to 31 May around the three designated MPA sites within 20 km from the coast where the congregation area is located and around the buffer zones in the river mouths of Dhamra, Devi and Rushikulya.
Since September 2021 in association with like-minded researchers from academic universities and officials in the NGO community I have conducted group discussions and one-on-one interviews with fishers to identify critical land corridors (mouths of estuaries; fish landing beaches, etc.) through which illegal fishers, poachers and organised crime groups enter the “no-fishing zone in the Rushikulya, Odisha, India.
Three principal threats to turtle nesting grounds around Rushikulya river include:
- Human poachers stealing turtle eggs and kill turtles for meat by encroaching into nesting beaches by organised crime gangs.
- Illegal fishing by trawlers in the 20-km “no-fishing zone” at sea that kills turtles by entanglement in the trawl nets at sea in Rushikulya waters.
- Illegal fishing by small-scale fishing canoes in shallow waters no fishing zone near Rushikulya leading to entanglement of turtles in gillnets and subsequent deaths due to asphyxiation.
- Odisha Marine Fish Producers Association
- Trawl boats owners’ association
- Forest Department, Ministry of Forests and Environment
- Indian Coast Guard, Ministry of Defense
- Odisha Police
Existing Monitoring, Control and Enforcement issues:
- High running costs for patrols at sea (hence, a limited number of sea-based patrols).
- Non-availability and shortage of land-based beach patrol rangers and scarcity of funds to intercept illegal trawlers at sea.
- A large extent of the maritime area at sea (20 km from the coast) remains inaccessible to the Forest Department rangers.
- Illegal fishing by both trawlers and small-scale fishing boats.
- Poaching of eggs on nesting beaches and illegal entry of poachers into nesting grounds on the beaches at night.
- Anthropogenic threats due to sand mining in rivers, construction of new coastal ports, dredging, pollution and release of industrial effluents and plastic waste into the sea.
- Climate change and erosion of sea beaches in the nesting grounds.