Sunil Chandrashekaran, marine biologist and Director, Centre for Environmental Studies research group based out of Thoothukudi told IANS: “Olive Ridley turtles are an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and efforts are on to conserve these species across the globe. In South India, a lot of conservation efforts are taking place in Kerala and Tamil Nadu but the deaths of large number of Olive Ridley turtles across the shores of Nagapattinam is a disturbing trend.”
In the past four weeks, carcasses of 150 Olive Ridley turtles have washed ashore in Nagapattinam area. This according to Sunil Chandrashker was five times more than the number of carcasses found during the same period last year as 30 were found between January 4 and 26.
The Olive Ridley turtles are in the Red List of endangered species marked by the IUCN and the forest department and the state fisheries department, along with the environment department, are creating awareness among the fishermen of Nagapattinam on the importance of this species.
Nirmala Benoy, marine biologist and researcher on Olive Ridley turtles and their breeding seasons, who is travelling across the South Indian coasts where the turtles are found, said: “There are destructive fishing practices in some areas and poor awareness among fishermen on the need of conserving this highly endangered species.”
She said that the Olive Ridley turtles are air-breathing and most die due to asphyxiation when caught in the fishing nets and most will not be able to get air leading to their deaths.
However, forest department officials said that dredging that is taking place at Arukatuthurai fishing harbour has led to the displacement of sand leading to the Olive Ridley turtles getting blocked in their swimming paths to the shore.
Marine Conservationist and Chairman of Tree Foundation, Dr. Supraja Dharani told IANS: “Olive Ridley turtles are an endangered species and is very important for the ecological balance and biodiversity in the ocean. The fisheries department must ensure that the fishermen are getting proper training in fishing habits and that they are in no way endangering the species. The fishermen are in direct contact with these animals and the onus is on the fisheries department to put a brake on this. We cannot afford to lose this highly endangered species and necessary action has to be taken by the authorities concerned to conserve the Olive Ridley Turtles.”
She also said that the marine enforcement agencies like the Coast guard and the marine police must be roped in to check about the destructive fishing practices deployed by the fishermen of the area.
Fisheries department officials told IANS that they have already commenced creating awareness among the fishermen community on the turtles and how important it was for humankind to conserve the highly endangered species that maintains the ecological balance in the sea.
Yogesh Kumar Meena, Nagapattinam district Forest officer, said: “We are closely monitoring the situation and if the fishermen are not listening to what we are telling them strict action would be taken against those who are not abiding by the conservation and environmental rules.”