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Rushikulya – Where The Olive Future Begins

The Rushikulya beach along the coast of Odisha, not far from the state’s capital city of Bhubaneswar, is the world’s largest mass nesting site of the vulnerable olive Ridley turtle. Photo: Arghya Adhikary and Saurabh Chakraborty

Just three and a half hours away from Bhubaneswar is a place where nature unfolds one of its most amazing mysteries. Here the tranquil beaches of Rushikulya come alive with the beating of heavy flippers that belong to hundreds of thousands of olive Ridleys, the smallest sea turtles in the world, that arrive en-masse to lay their eggs on the beaches of coastal Odisha.

A pair of endangered olive Ridley turtles mates in the ocean, a natural history phenomenon that only a lucky few get to witness each year. Photo: Arghya Adhikary and Saurabh Chakraborty

THE BACKDROP

The plan was not set at all. It was quarter past eleven at night when the phone rang. “Before mass nesting, these turtles congregate in large numbers for mating near the seashore; come as soon as you can,”said Rabi (Rabindranath Sahoo), the head of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC). A quick look at the IRCTC website revealed  non-availability of train tickets. But we were determined.  We boarded the next available overnight bus from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar.

“Get down at Vani Bihar and take the train from Bhubaneswar to Ganjam, and Magata will receive you there,” Rabi called again. As the train raced away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the colours outside the window transformed to a lush green. Our train sped past the Eastern Ghats, and the ocean-like Chilika lake before reaching Ganjam, where Magata Behra, also with the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, was waiting for us.

The female olive Ridley turtle lays her eggs in a nest, which she painstakingly digs with her flippers. Photo: Arghya Adhikary and Saurabh Chakraborty

AND NATURE OPENED HER CURTAIN…

The deep blue sea was wild, choppy and daunting, tossing our small boat about. As we crossed the first wave line, a head popped up beside our boat, followed by another and then another. Soon we were surrounded by endangered olive Ridley turtles often surfacing to breathe and bask in the morning sun. Further into the ocean, Magata spotted a mating pair and our cameras went into overdrive.

It was a humbling, yet exhilarating experience. We headed back to Kolkata that evening but decided to return after a month to witness the arribada… the arrival of these turtles for mass nesting.

Arribada, the synchronised mass nesting takes place approximately 30 days after the turtles mate.
Photo: Arghya...
 
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