With the arrival of more than six lakh endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, the serene and idyllic Gahirmatha beach in Odisha’s Kendrapara district has re-established itself as the world’s largest known rookery of these marine animals.
The delicate marine species which have dug out neat pits on the sandy beach have so far laid over whopping seven crore eggs. However, space constraints on the nesting beach has led to the damage of eggs with the marine animals re-digging the pits where nests had been erected earlier, a forest official said.
Since the commencement of mass-nesting otherwise described as ‘arribada’ (a Spanish term used for en masse laying eggs by turtle species) on February 22, the third highest ever congregation of marine species has taken place in the idyllic unmanned island with 6,01,641 turtles turning up for nesting, the official said.
The highest record of mass nesting was registered in 2001 with 7,41,000 turtles while the second best was 7,11,000 turtles in 2000. This year the spectacular natural phenomenon is still continuing since the past one week and is expected to last for at least three to four days, they said.
“It will be no surprise if the mass nesting record of past years is bettered this time,” said Subrat Patra, forest range officer, Gahirmatha marine sanctuary.
It’s only the female turtles that virtually invade the nesting beaches usually at the dead of night for laying eggs. After indulgence in instinctive egg-laying, the turtles leave the nesting ground to stride into the deep sea water.
Hatchlings emerge from these eggs after 45-60 days. It is a rare natural phenomenon where the babies grow without their mothers by their sides, the official said.
While six lakh turtles have laid over seven crore eggs, nearly 1.5 crore eggs were smashed by nesting turtles who loitered around the beach to find a congenial location to dig pit and lay eggs. The breeding turtles little knowing the existence of nests were sighted digging up the spot dismantling the already existing nests and eggs.
The one-km-long nesting ground has inadequate space to accommodate six lakh marine visitors. Therefore, it’s not humanly possible to stop the destruction of eggs, he said.
Each olive species lays about 80 to 120 eggs in pits they dig up for the purpose. They climb the shore after sunset and vanish into the sea before sunrise after laying eggs.
However, the rate of mortality of these endangered species is quite high. As hatching requires 45 to 60 days, many get destroyed, the official said.
Besides, eggs are also washed away by sea waves during high tide. The eggs are incubated in the nest and grow, sans mother, to emerge as hatchlings. The hatchlings after breaking open from eggshells then enter the sea. It takes nearly 25 years for a turtle to attain adulthood and be able to mate and lay eggs, said Patra.