• The ‘Arribada’ is about to begin: this is when thousands of olive ridley turtles will emerge from the sea, clamber up the beach, dig nesting holes in the sand, lay eggs en masse, and then vanish into the waters as suddenly as they appeared.
  • Some 45-60 days later, the hatchlings will emerge and make their way uncannily towards the sea, hazarding predators and poachers.
  • We are cautioned not to use any kind of light, even the light on our mobile phone screens could be a disturbance The 5-km-long fence is to protect the ridleys and eggs from predators like dogs and jackals.
  • Once done, they begin their arduous journey back to the sea.
  • This time they are moving much slower than they did when they arrived, but their heads are raised. As they drag their bodies across the sand, they leave distinct track marks. A
  • nd just like that they are gone, back into the dark waters.
  • The eggs will incubate in the heat of the sand.
  • Only one in a thousand hatchlings will survive to reach adulthood.
  • But the real arribada is taking place at Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary in northern Odisha, where more that 4 lakh turtles have arrived since February 27.
  • This is the world’s biggest nesting beach for ridleys.
  • Much has been done to protect these Schedule 1 animals during nesting season, but they are still up against several odds.
  • Some 50 years ago, ridleys nested en masse on the Odisha coast in winter, between November and December.
  • This has gradually shifted to February and March and no one is quite sure why.
  • There have been speculations about climate change impacting their breeding and nesting, but no studies have been done yet to confirm this theory.
  • One nesting site, at the Devi river mouth, has been all but abandoned by the ridleys because mechanised fishing poses a huge threat to them.
  • But at the Rushikulya rookery coast, their numbers have dramatically increased: last year, this rookery witnessed the rare phenomenon of ‘double mass nesting’ in February and April.
  • Unplanned coastal development along the coastline has taken a toll on the turtles, with sea erosion also reducing the nesting beach stretch at Gahirmatha from 3.2 km in 1993-94 to less than a kilometre today.
  • Light pollution also impacts the animals, disorienting the hatchlings as they make their way to the sea at night.
  • A proper illumination policy is needed to keep a check on light pollution, and we need trawlers fitted with turtle excluder devices.
  • A deep-water sea port and a township near Dhamra, and a missile testing centre are not far from Gahirmatha.
  • The scientist is also critical of casuarina plantations planted along the beach since nesting beaches need to be kept open.
  • Then, there is a distinctly 21st century problem: selfies. Phone-toting tourists who throng the Rushikulya beach to watch the breeding are a big disturbance.