Balancing act for turtles

Can a balance be found between the environment and development? That was the question discussed at a meeting to work out how the Dhamra Port project in Orissa, India, can go ahead without harming the Olive Ridley turtle population.

Olive Ridley Turtle

The Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The coastline south of Dhamra Port is one of the world’s largest mass nesting grounds for the turtles.

“This is an extremely unique and special area, a globally significant monument,” said Roderic Mast, Co-Chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and Vice President of Conservation International. “It’s not just sea turtles and arribadas; it’s horseshoe crabs and mangroves and birds and more. From what we have heard today, the area is important enough to be declared a World Heritage Site.”

IUCN has been advising the Dhamra Port Company Ltd, a joint venture between TATA Steel and Larsen and Toubro, on how to mitigate the impact of its development on the turtles.

“Orissa is a poor state, but rich in natural resources,” said Upendra Nath Behera, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Forest & Environment Department, Government of Orissa. “The port and other projects are required for its economic development. We also have rich biodiversity in Orissa, such as Olive Ridley turtles, mangroves, and other flora and fauna. We need issues and suggestions thrown up to find a delicate balance between the environment and development.”

The workshop, held from 24-25 February, brought together a mix of government representatives, the private sector, leading local and international scientists, technical experts, academics and local community representatives.

Participants discussed and debated scientific information and development agendas with the aim to ensure long-term security for Olive Ridley turtles and the ecosystems on which they depend.

“Eventually the port will be handed over to the Government of Orissa,” said Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director of IUCN Asia. “Therefore a strong Environmental Management Plan is required. IUCN is using the sea turtle as an indicator species in this ecosystem, but the overall ecology of the area is critical.”

Several major recommendations of IUCN are currently being implemented by the Dhamra Port Company, including use of turtle protective deflectors on dredgers and lighting techniques to reduce sky glow, which can confuse newborn turtles as they make their way from the beach to the sea.

The most serious threat to turtle populations was identified as trawler fishing which often inadvertently traps and kills turtles in nets. This can be dramatically reduced by use of Turtle Excluder Devices on nets, but much more work is needed to introduce the practice in the area.

Further research was recommended to better understand nesting and migration patterns of the Olive Ridley. The recommendations from the workshop will be integrated into a comprehensive Environmental Management Plan for the port.

“Dhamra is just one port in the area,” said B C Choudhary, Wildlife Institute of India and member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. “Dhamra Port Company should enter into dialogue with other ports and other development sectors on how they can come up with a solution for a far-reaching and far greater impact on the coastal habitat and biodiversity and not just turtles.”

Work area: 
Red List
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