The Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee
April 2010: The Rushikulya river merges into the Bay of Bengal near Ganjam town in Southern Orissa. A wide stretch of beach on the northern side of the river is the favoured nesting site of olive ridley turtles.
Every year, from November to the end of January, the ridley turtles mate in these coastal waters and anytime from January to early April, lakhs of mother turtles come ashore en masse to lay their eggs. After a 45-50 day incubation period, baby hatchlings emerge from the sandy nests to crawl into the ocean.
When wildlife scientist Dr. Bivash Pandav visited the village of Purunabandha on the banks of the Rushikulya in 1994, he was appalled to see turtle eggs destroyed by crows, dogs and jackals. The lack of awareness about olive ridley turtles and their mating, nesting and hatching habits among the villagers prompted him to establish the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC) in 1998, with the assistance of the local youth. From the time of its inception, volunteers including Rabindra Nath Sahu, Damburu Behera, M. Shankar Rao, Mohan Behera, Gouranga Behera, Ganpati Sahu and others became involved in spreading awareness among the locals about the ridleys, thus ensuring the participation of the community in conservation efforts. Five years later, in 2003, the RSTPC was officially registered as an NGO.
The Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee is today a 37-member strong organisation, comprising youth belonging to the three villages of Purunabandha, Gokharkuda and Kantiagada.
The RSTPC started off with activities that included keeping the beach clean, measuring the beach profile and nesting area, monitoring the arrival of turtles for nesting and keeping fishermen and predators away from the beach during the nesting and hatching season. Gradually, the activities of the RSTPC grew to include awareness programmes for the local population and school children. At the Rushikulya beach, baby turtles often get disoriented due to artificial lighting. So, the RSTPC members collect the misled hatchlings in buckets and release them in the ocean. Recently, they placed a net along the beach to enable them to collect the hatchlings more easily. At the Gopalpur Beach festival, the RSTPC has made its presence felt by putting up stalls and creating sculptures of turtles to create awareness.
The fact that the olive ridley turtles, an endangered species, are fast dwindling in number, is a matter of grave concern for wildlife enthusiasts. Of the three mass nesting sites along the Orissa coast – Gahirmatha, Rushikulya and the Devi River mouth, only Gahirmatha is legally protected. The Rushikulya rookery, its unprotected status notwithstanding, has come to acquire special significance due to the consistent arrival of lakhs and lakhs of olive ridley turtles for their arribada over the years. To aid this, the members of the RSTPC monitor the nesting population and also assist in the release of baby turtles during mass hatching. They have also encouraged visitors, research scholars from various universities, locals and children to participate in the collection and release of disoriented baby turtles.
Currently, the RSTPC is working in collaboration with the Orissa Forest Department, ATREE, Wildlife Institute of India, Greenpeace, World Turtle Trust, Wildlife Society of Orissa, People for Animals and Wildlife Trust of India. The V.J. Sheth Memorial Sea Turtle Interpretation Centre was set up by the RSTPC, courtesy the Great Eastern Shipping Corporation, Mumbai in order to boost the awareness and conservation programmes. Due to the efforts of the organisation, the turtle is now sacrosanct as an avatar of Lord Vishnu in the three coastal villages of Purunabandha, Gokharkuda and Kantiagada. The members, who have been trained by wildlife experts, serve as research assistants, working with scientists like Dr. Basudev Tripathi, Dr. Kartik Shanker and Dr. Chandrashekhar Kar.
The current projects of the RSTPC include assisting in data collection, tagging and satellite transmitter studies, distribution of the mating congregation and monitoring hatchling mortality rates. They also assist local school children and organisations by providing information and creating awareness through CDs, journals, documentaries and pictures. The Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee has a library with a number of books on general wildlife, and marine life in particular.
For more details on how you can help the RSTPC, write to:
Rabindra Nath Sahu (Secretary),
Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee,
Purunabandha, P.O. Pallibandha,
Orissa, India – 761026.
Tel.: 06811-254148, 09437204384