The Bay of Bengal sea brings many visitors to Vizag and among them are the Olive Ridley sea turtles. These migratory marine turtles are one of the most frequent marine species to Vizag shores and are a fascinating sight for the public. While these turtles are sighted across the whole eastern coast of India, right from Odisha to parts of Tamil Nadu, the shores of Vizag are the favourite habitat of these turtles.
Usually visiting during the month of January, the Olive Ridley sea turtles have not only been the fancy of the many tourists who come to Vizag, but have also put the city on the global wildlife map. Protected by the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, these little creatures nest along the shores of Vizag for a period of 45-50 days. The District Forest Department engages the fishermen communities of the city in order to ensure that these turtles are nesting safely on the city’s shores. This involves setting up hatcheries along the coast and training fishermen to monitor the nesting of these turtles. This acts as an alternative livelihood for the fishermen in the area.
Visakhapatnam District Forest Officer (DFO), Anant Shankar IFoS, shared that the city of Vizag has been reporting a good number of Olive Ridley sea turtles turning up every year. They have identified 5 sites along the beach stretch of Vizag, from RK Beach to Bheemili Beach, that witness a lot of Olive Ridley sea turtles during the peak season. New Year is the time when the turtles begin appearing and then, they are seen regularly for the entirety of January. After that, they begin leaving, vacating the shores entirely by the month of May.
However, these innocent creatures do face many threats on their travels to Vizag. To begin with, in the sea itself, these turtles can get caught in fishing nets and hence, be deprived of oxygen. Then, once they do reach the shores, they are under threat from various predators, like birds and humans. Hence, it becomes every Vizagite’s responsibility to not only safeguard these turtles but also nurture them during their time here on the city shores.
While the District Forest Department highlights every citizen’s role in safeguarding these turtles, the department also believes in educating people about these turtles. That is why various awareness campaigns, walks, camps, beach cleanup drives and school trips are organised in Vizag to educate people and share the beautiful experience of Olive Ridley sea turtles nesting.
However, DFO Shankar has a few words of advice for the citizens of Vizag. “The people of Vizag are welcome to come witness the nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles and have this unique experience. If anyone comes upon a dead/injured turtle or any other creature on Vizag’s shores, they can inform the Forest Department about it. During nesting season, it is recommended that people be careful while walking on a beach, so as not to trample over any turtle. These turtles are not sensitive but any major humane disturbance will have a negative impact on their nesting.”