Who kills the Olive Ridley Turtles?

Olive Ridley TurtleOlive Ridley Turlte on a beach. Photo: Shutterstock

In a blame game among small scale fisherfolk, trawler boat owners and the forest department, no one takes responsibility for turtle deaths in the Chennai coast

Adarsh B. Pradeep

several thousand kilometers

Using the earth’s magnetic field, the Olive Ridley Turtles’ undertake a journey of several thousand kilometers and reach Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Andhra coasts to nest. This happens every year between November and April – the nesting months of the Schedule I animal under the Wildlife Protection Act.

They are one of the five species of Turtles found in the Indian water and are categorised as Vulnerable in the Red Data Book by the IUCN.

Every year, this nesting season is celebrated by the media giving daily reports on the number of nests discovered, number of eggs transferred to hatcheries and the number of baby turtles released back into the sea – something for the humans to take pride for, a feather in the cap of urbanisation and development.

However, on the same beaches where the eggs are discovered, something less talked about is also washed ashore – corpses of Olive Ridleys, some with their heads chopped off, some with their flippers cut, some others intertwined in fishing nets and some others due to plastic ingestion.

A dead Olive Ridley with a swollen neck at Injambakkam, Chennai. Credit: The Wire

The nests of the Olive Ridleys’ are usually found by volunteers of Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) or the forestry department, who in turn bring it to the hatcheries on the beach. At the Besant Nagar hatchery in Chennai, a volunteer of SSTCN said that the forest department has instructed them not to reveal the number of dead Turtles but were happy to explain that the number of eggs they collected this season (which exceeded more than 10,000).

Infographic showing the number of deaths of Olive Ridley Turtles in Chennai.

On asked about an official count on the number of deaths of Olive Ridleys in Chennai coast, the Forest Department at Velachery said that it was around 53 to 63, which is the data till March 1. While the numbers of Olive Ridley deaths a couple of years back was above 200 in Chennai, this year they claim to have reduced the number. But, they are unable to point to a reason for this reduced numbers.

The SSTCN volunteers also said that the mandated forensic tests are never done on the dead turtles to ascertain the cause of death. They said that the turtles are simply buried without registering any case for the death of the protected animal.

Various independent studies had shown that the major causes of death of the Olive Ridleys were due to entanglement in fishermen nets, propeller strikes and pollution. However, the small scale fishermen, for their part, say that they consider the turtle as their god and immediately release them back to the sea. They also said that their nets are so thin that it breaks when a turtle enters it.

The fisheries and forest departments in Chennai also agree to this view that it is the large scale fishermen who use trawlers who are majorly responsible for the turtle deaths. The fisheries also said that they had mandated a Turtle Excluder Device [TED], a specialised hardware that allows turtle to escape from the nets.

However, the trawling boat owners at Kasimedu in Chennai outrightly reject this. They say that no TEDs were mandated for them. They also said that they consider the turtle as their god.

A group of environmentalists also believe that the fishermen are made scapegoats and that the true problem could be plastic ingestion which no one is ready to talk about. So, the question remains – Who kills the Olive Ridley Turtles?