The Olive Ridley Turtles visit Orissa coast and down south till Tamil Nadu along the east coast for nesting. They come in hundreds of thousands and nest along almost the entire Orissa coast either sporadically or en-masse. Gahirmatha, Debi and Rushikulya are the three nesting beaches where mass nesting takes place.
The upcoming port at Dhamra is located to the north of the Gahirmatha nesting beach at a distance of 15 kms as the crow flies which is significant considering that Gahirmatha is the northern most nesting ground on the eastern coast of India and turtles come from south. To quote from the report of the Chief Wildlife Warden dated 30.12.1998, “The olive ridley turtles nest in the Gahirmatha beach which is about 15 km from the port site as the crow flies. But as there is dispersal of islands and sand bars, actual water route distance from the port site to the nesting beach is about 30 km. No other endangered marine life occurs or nest in close vicinity of the proposed port site. There is no likelihood of this project affecting the nesting of the sea turtles.”
A WII (Wildlife Institute of India) report divides the coast of Orissa into eight sectors out of which turtles are shown to be visiting seven sectors along the coast either sporadically or en-masse. The only sector which turtles do not visit either sporadically or en-masse for nesting is the northern most sector north of river Dhamra and that is where the port is located. The National Environment Appellate Authority after a visit to the site have clearly described it as “clay soil and very sticky, it (which) could never become a breeding center for turtles.” The NEAA has upheld the environment clearance.
Further as per WII Study 2000, nesting of Olive Ridley takes place along the coastline south of Dhamra river mouth. Breeding congregation and mating pairs were found within a area of 52 sqkm in the coastal water off Gahirmatha of which maximum utlization area is 27.52 sqkm. The said area falls within the 1400 sqkm of sea declared as Marine Sanctuary. The upcoming port area is sufficiently away from the limits of national marine sanctuary, which includes core as well as buffer area.
The evidence referred to by Greenpeace about presence of turtles, namely a study conducted by Dr. S.K. Dutta of North Orissa University, is itself mired in controversy. The university has gone on record disputing it as having been tampered with by Greenpeace. The report published by the University in their website is different from the one published by Greenpeace. Neither the original report nor the report published by Greenpeace has any evidence regarding movement of live turtles. They only refer to turtle carcasses. The original report refers to the carcasses as having been washed ashore from the south whereas the Greenpeace report changes the words and ascribes them to the port area. There are many such crucial changes by Greenpeace in its published report, which raises serious questions about its credibility.
Similarly, the study of four turtles is not the only study, nor is it a conclusive study and for turtles is not a sufficient sample size. The turtles come to the coast in hundreds of thousands for which four is too small a number apart from the fact that the presence of turtles any where along the Orissa coast per se is neither uncommon nor an issue. Turtles can be found in the existing Paradip Port, which has not affected their habitat. What is important is that it has been established beyond doubt that turtles do not congregate near Dhamra Port for nesting or mating or any such purpose because of which the port could pose a threat.
In another study titled as “Conservation and Management of Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in Orissa” by Mr B C Choudhury and Mr Bivash Pandav, about 14,000 Olive Ridley turtles were tagged ( both off shore and on shore in Orissa coast) and their movements were tracked between the periods of 1997 to 2001. During the same tracking, no live turtles were tracked either in the port area or in the north of Dhamra river.