The Olive Ridley turtles have returned to their nesting site at Gahirmatha beach in Odisha. The annual mass nesting began on Tuesday night in Nasi-2 beach of the Gahirmatha nesting ground.
The endangered female turtles annually travel to the beach in Kendrapara district, considered world's largest known rookery of these species, to lay eggs. This phenomenon is called 'arribada', a spanish term, which describes the unique natural heritage of millions of these marine species converging on the nesting ground for laying eggs.
While the number of female turtles was lower than previous years, a larger turnout is expected in the coming days, said Debashis Bhoi, the forest range officer of Gahirmatha forest range. The officials are yet to count the number of nests dug by the turtles so far. However, around 2,000 turtles had turned up to lay eggs till now, and the mass nesting is likely to continue for at least 10 days.
"The presence of forest personnel on the nesting ground did not bother the turtles as they maintained a distance from the animals. Emphasis is on providing privacy to the marine animals during the egg-laying process. On their seaward journey, they moved past the forest guards at hand-shaking distance", said the officials, who witnessed mass nesting.
In 2019-20 nesting season, around 7.3 lakh Olive Ridley turtles had turned up for mass nesting in Odisha, of which 4.50 lakh turtles laid eggs in Gahirmatha beach alone. "We are expecting this year's mass nesting figure to get better than last year's," the official said. Apart from Gahirmatha, the turtles also nest at Rushikulya river mouth and Devi river mouth for mass nesting.
The forest department is now prioritising the safety of turtles' nests by installing a 600 metre net barricade along the casiruanna forest cover that is close to nesting ground. They are also keeping a round-the-clock vigil to keep the predators like jackals, hyena and wild dogs at bay, Bhoi said.
Every year, the female turtles instinctively reach the same beaches they have laid nest in earlier. After laying eggs, the turtles leave the nesting ground. Hatchlings emerge from these eggs after 45-60 days. An Olive Ridley turtle usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs. Gahirmatha beach, which is off the Bay of Bengal, is incidentally acclaimed as world's largest-known nesting ground of these animals.