Marine Turtle Conservation

M. Satyanarayana
DIG (WL), Ministry of Environment & Forests, New Delhi -110 003

Five of the world s seven species of marine turtles inhabit India/Indian Ocean and the world s largest mass nesting and breeding ground of endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle, Lepidochelys olivacea, is located at Gahrimatha in Orissa. There are also two other locations along the Orissa coast where Olive Ridleys nest in large numbers; one near the mouth of the river Devi and the other near the mouth of river Rushikulya. More than half a million Olive Ridley turtles nest on these three rookeries every year. Their nesting has also been reported from the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Andaman & Nicobar Islands and to a lesser extent in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa.

Mortality due to mechanised fishing and other developmental pressures has been increasing each year and the mortality due to trawling alone accounts for almost 70 per cent. The protection of this globally important population is of great concern and has been attracting the attention of both the national and international community.

Realising the urgent need to take effective steps to conserve marine turtles along the Indian coast in general and Orissa coast in particular, the Ministry of Environment and Forests seeks to launch a Project Turtle on the lines of Project Tiger for marine turtle conservation. Action is being taken on a priority basis to provide necessary inputs to marine turtle conservation in the Indian Ocean and an Expert Committee on marine turtle conservation has been constituted with the Inspector General of Forests and Special Secretary as its Chairman and Dr.Priyambada Mohanty, former Vice-chancellor of Sambalpur University, Orissa as Vice-Chairperson. The first meeting of the Expert Committee was held on August 6, 1998 and after detailed deliberations, priority areas for action have been identified for their protection and conservation.

The immediate objectives identified for marine turtle conservation are: minimise and eliminate trawling related sea turtle mortality; regulate fishing/trawling activities during the breeding season; popularise the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) in trawl nets; prevent illegal encroachment of the sea turtle nesting sites; and control poaching and predation of eggs, hatchlings and adults.

The long term objectives for marine turtle conservation are: sustainable management of coastal resources through participatory approach; the establishment of Research Based Management (RBM) database for scientific management; monitoring and controlling pollution and other developmental activities; generating awareness for conservation of sea turtles and their habitat; implementing schemes for eco-development to selected target communities in sensitive areas; and habitat protection of sea turtles including migratory pathways of the species.

Implementation strategy

The potential partners of the Ministry of Environment & Forests in implementing the project are the other central ministries, state governments of Orissa, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Wild Life Institute of India, National Institute of Oceanography, Indian Coast Guards, Indian Navy, DRDO, universities and select non governmental organisations.

The ministry has already initiated a dialogue with the UNDP to seek funding for marine turtle conservation and a proposal titled "Marine Turtle Conservation in India through Participatory Approach" has already been submitted for funding to UNDP.

The successul implementation of the project will help in winning back the confidence and support of the people for environmentally sound management of coastal resources for sustainable development and help in the conservation and management of the world s largest rookeries. The project requires the active participation of all stakeholders.