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|January 7, 1999||
Govt orders Operation Olive to save Ridley turtles
Arup Chanda in Calcutta
At least 16,000 sea turtles were killed in 1998 off the Orissa coast, forcing the central government to launch a new conservation plan.
The Coast Guard's 700 squadron, which is based in Calcutta, has launched Operation Olive to protect the famous Olive Ridley green sea turtles from poachers.
The Coast Guard is the nodal agency for protecting the environment in the country's coastal areas. Each year, during the breeding season of these turtles, the Coast Guard carries out such operations to protect the animals from poachers. Earlier, it carried out Operation Geeturt, patrolling the Orissa coast. In the process, Coast Guard sailors seized 16 foreign fishing vessels which were involved in poaching the Olive Ridley turtles.
"It is like mass annihilation of an entire species," B C Choudhury, an expert on turtles at the Wildlife Institute of India, said.
Most of the turtles die a horrid death, trapped in the nylon nets of trawlers fishing along the coast.
Jolted by last year's unprecedented toll, the Union environment ministry finalised the blueprint for a massive operation.
The golden sands of the Gahirmatha beach in the eastern state, Shorts Island and Wheeler Island in the Indian Ocean are like a fertile womb for the Olive Ridley turtles that emerge from the sea at the dead of night to lay their eggs.
The reptiles, which trace their origins to the Jurassic age, travel across the Pacific from the world's largest congregation to the Orissa coast between October and April.
The Union government's Project Sea Turtle encompasses five endangered species: the Olive Ridley, hawksbill, green turtle, leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
As most of the devastation occurs because of uncontrolled trawler traffic, the government's has made turtle-extruder devices mandatory aboard trawlers. The TED will enable trapped turtles to free themselves.
The plan, with provisions for seasonal banning of trawlers and declaring nesting sites as protected areas, states that of the 7,100 km coastline, only 200 km have to be actually protected to save the turtles. The Coast Guard has been assigned to implement this plan.
Sources said the ministry had no option but to act after the US banned Indian maritime exports like shrimps, linking it to the government's failure to protect its turtle population.
Researchers are also alarmed by the rise in fibropapillomatosis, known as papillomas, a potentially fatal disease causing tumour-like growths on the soft tissue of sea turtles. The growth often cover the eyes, causing blindness, leading to starvation and death.
There is strong evidence to suggest that the disease is related to the toxic algae in waters polluted by chemicals from prawn farms nearby. Last year, many prawn farms in Orissa were shut down following a court order for allegedly polluting the environment.
Ministry officials have belatedly ordered pollution control organisations to regulate the discharge of effluents.
But in backward Orissa, government officials entrusted with conservation are still groping in the dark.
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