This menu organises news, documents, projects, profiles and links into key topics, and the menu along the top divides the contents of the site by type.
Bycatch / discards
Chain of custody / Supply chain management
Corruption / mismanagement
Flag state issues
Governance / management
International trade / WTO
Monitoring, control and surveillance
Port state issues
Retail / consumers
18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
The turtle story
Despite an inflow of funds and much media attention, turtle mortality in Orissa has reached unprecedented proportions. More needs to be done, says Bibhuti Pati.
Turtle mortalities have skyrocketed in Orissa, making it the worst season for the turtles, in the last eight years. In the Paradip to Chilika stretch, the mortality stands at 4,495 until February 2008, a shocking 80% increase when compared to the previous seven seasons. A crisis has emerged, even as the Government of Orissa received over Rs. 3 crores from the centre for the maintenance of its parks and sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Further, there is no sign of the patrolling necessary to curb illegal fishing, the main cause of turtle mortality.
Every year, between November and May, the coast of Orissa is home to the Olive Ridley Turtles, which arrive in thousands, congregating, feeding and breeding in the near shore waters. Thousands of these turtles then head to one of the mass-nesting beaches, at Gahirmatha, Rushikulya or Devi to lay their eggs. The cycle is complete when 40-50 days later, hatchlings emerge from these eggs and head to sea, keeping intact and alive, the story of an ecological marvel.
Orissa should be ashamed that its beaches have metamorphosed into turtle grave yards. The mortality toll has crossed 120,000 in the last 12 years, according to independent estimates. These turtles face the gravest threat is from the fishing trawlers, largely operating illegally in no-fishing zones. Looming large are also the existing and proposed development projects and industrial activities along Orissas coast, that could prove to be a death knell for this species, the coastal ecosystem and the communities that depend on fisheries for their sustenance.
The issue is complex. Along with the turtles, thousands of traditional fisherfolk, who are dependent on the marine resources, find themselves in peril. Restricting fishing in certain areas has obviously affected the livelihood of thousands from the traditional fishing community, many of whom are already poverty-stricken. Fishermen from the traditional sector are already experiencing declining catches, primarily a result of over-fishing. Along with the turtles, these fishermen suffer as the near-shore waters, their traditional fishing grounds, are encroached upon by the mechanised trawling industry. If not for the protection of the turtles, patrolling the near shore waters is critical to safeguard the livelihoods of these impoverished communities.
While this decade-old conflict seems hard to resolve, there are solutions in sight. The forest and fisheries departments have always faced the problem of a lack of resources, while the absence of any compensation for the restrictions imposed on their fishing has always been a sore point with traditional fishing communities. In an attempt to look at the issue holistically, NGOs such as Greenpeace have come up with their own estimates of the budgetary resources required to resolve this issue. The estimate was for an allocation of about Rs. 2 crores to the Department of Forests (Wildlife) to ensure improved marine patrolling and turtle protection. An estimated 9 crores is also required annually for the compensation of traditional fishermen affected by fishing restrictions.
In August 2007, following a meeting between Orissa Chief secretary Ajit Kumar Tripathy and Union Environment secretary Meena Gupta, an amount of Rs. 2 crores was to be disbursed to Orissa by the Centre, specifically towards the purchase of fast patrol boats to protect the turtles.
In November 2007, the forest and environment department of the Government of Orissa received Rs. 9.17 Crores from the Centre, of which Rs. 3.18 crores was earmarked for the development of national parks and sanctuaries. Ironically, even as the critical financial roadblock to effective patrolling was overcome, turtle mortality in the current season (2007-2008) has dramatically increased. As per Greenpeace estimates, mortality has shot up by over 80% in the Paradip'Chilika region, when compared to the previous four seasons.
What has happened to the resources acquired by the state government from the Centre for turtle conservation? What are the mechanisms to ensure that these resources are utilised appropriately and optimally?
Speaking to TEHELKA, Sanjiv Gopal, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace India said It is shocking that the turtle toll until February 2008 is over 4000 in the Paradip'Chilika stretch, an 80 percent increase from the average for the previous four turtle seasons. While reducing mortality to zero might not be practical, the Government of Orissa must demonstrate its commitment to protecting its turtles, by setting itself annual turtle mortality reduction targets. It must start with what is left of this turtle season. This benchmark would enable the governments turtle protection efforts to be evaluated in an objective manner.
On the issue of compensation for traditional fishermen, the Government of India has assured its support for alternative livelihood income generation schemes drawn up by the State Government. However, such a scheme has yet to be forwarded from the state to the Centre, an indictment of the degree of concern the state has for its fishing community. Commenting on the situation, Tapan Parida, Secretary of the Peer Jahania Traditional Fishermens Union from the Devi region said It is important that the near shore waters are patrolled effectively, to protect both the turtles and our fishing grounds from the larger mechanised sector and trawlers. We are tired of waiting for the issue of our livelihoods to be addressed, either through compensation of lost income or by through alternative income generation schemes.
None of these solutions are new. As per the Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act (OMFRA), near-shore waters up to 5 km from the shoreline are exclusively reserved for traditional fishers. Similarly the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, has placed no restrictions on non-motorised, non-mechanised fishing vessels at the Devi and Rushikulya nesting sites, as such fishing rarely harms turtles. Motorised boats are required to stay more than 5 kms from the shore near the Devi and Rushikulya nesting sites, while trawlers are to stay 20 km from the shore. If implemented, the 5 km near-shore waters would be exclusively preserved for the smallest, poorest fishermen, while the waters between 5 and 20 km. would be available for non-trawl motorised vessels.
Biswajit Mohanty, Secretary of Wildlife Society of Orissa and Coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, who has been following the issue for over a decade, said, The legislative frameworks exists and resources are available. The Government of Orissa is running out of excuses and they continue to fail abjectly in their responsibility to protect Orissas turtles. The question is simple ' does the state government value Orissas turtles enough?
If the answer is yes, it has no excuse not to act. Against this grim background, a sliver of hope remains with the recent arribada at Rushikulya in the beginning of March this year, a hope that these turtles will continue to congregate in these waters.
click to view source website
Impacts/Environment, biodiversity and fish stocks
Issues/Corruption / mismanagement