It’s a bright, breezy February morning and It’s the best time to spot some Olive Ridley sea turtles at the coast of the Rushikulya. There’s no need to wait – they’re everywhere. They swim, hundreds of them in every direction, in the green waters – some bob their heads up occasionally for air before disappearing quietly under the surface.
These turtles are here on very important business. A few weeks ago, they swam here from miles away to mate. And by the time you read this, the females have already laid eggs in astonishing numbers by moonlight in the sands. They didn’t pick Odisha at random. They’ve been doing this for millennia – returning to the same coast where they were hatched, this time to bury as many as 3.55 lakh soft-shelled eggs and that too creating a record itself.
Yes you have heard it right! Over 3,55,000 eggs have been laid by Olive Ridley sea turtles within a week of mass nesting in the Rushikulya river mouth of Ganjam coast, making an all-time record. Which is also way more higher than the total human population of Icelands[338,450] & Maldives [344,023]. The turtles had laid 3,09,000 eggs last year.
It’s a journey fraught with risk, as you’ll see. Of 1,000 eggs, only one Olive Ridley turtle is said to make it to adulthood. But as the rising turtle numbers at Rushikulya in the last two years show, that might slowly be changing. A new generation of locals in Rushikulya’s fishing villages of Purnabandha, Gokurkuda and Podampeta, who’ve grown up with messages of conservation, is taking charge of reptilian guest relations. They’re battling tradition, collaborating with experts, stretching budgets creatively and relying on good-old-fashioned grit so that Odisha, the world’s single most important breeding area for Olive Ridleys, can protect its precious visitors.
Thankfully the forest department has also stationed security personnel in speedboats to ensure that the coast is guarded to prevent the entry of illegal trawlers.