Jatindra Dash

Bhubaneswar, May 1:

Heavy unexpected rains lashing a turtle-hatching site in Orissa for a week may kill large numbers of turtles hatching.

Thousands of baby Olive Ridleys have appeared on the Rushikulya beach, in the southern district of Ganjam, for hatching.

Last year, the hatching had commenced April 25 after a 46-day period from the day of nesting. It was delayed this year due to the heavy rains lashing the nesting beach area. Rains compact the beach sand and prevent the hatchlings from digging out and emerging, said Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, a turtle conservation group.

It is feared this may lead to mass deaths of the hatchlings if the weather does not clear within a day or two, he said.

Hundreds of hatchlings are fully formed and are ready to come out in the nests, which are inside the sand beach but are unable to emerge due to the wet sand, he said. About 500 nests had hatched on Wednesday. Hatching picked up-tempo with about 800 nests hatching on Thursday.

More than 100,000 turtles had laid their eggs on this beach during the mass nesting which started on March 10.

The hatchlings normally emerge after a period of about 45-55 days depending upon the ambient sand temperature and climatic conditions.

The mass hatching has already been completed at Nasi Islands in Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary another largest nesting site in Orissa where nesting by nearly 240,000 turtles had occurred on March 2.

This year, the nesting took place over a beach stretch of about two-three km at Gokharkuda village near the Rushikulya river mouth.

Due to the late nesting, at least 70 per cent of the eggs have been lost due to beach erosion caused by strong summer winds and high waves. Local volunteers from Operation Kachhapa, and village youth engaged by the forest department have been protecting the eggs from dogs, jackals and other predators during the last seven weeks, Mohanty said.

The Olive Ridley sea turtles are highly endangered since they face dangers at every stage in their lives. Only one out of every 1,000 eggs laid survives to become an adult sea turtle.

Turtle hatchlings normally emerge in the evening and move towards the sea under the cover of darkness, which ensures that they are safe from predators and the hot sun. Strong sunlight can dry them up during the day.

They have to face many enemies since sea gulls, crows and other animals eat them as they march their way to the sea, especially during the early morning hours. Predatory fish in the sea also prey upon them when they enter the sea.