Roughly 600 dead Olive Ridley sea turtles and two dolphins have washed ashore in recently on beaches from Hukitola to Eakakula in the Garirmatha marine sanctuary areas in India.
The suspected death of the turtles was a result of being hit by fishing trawlers or entangled in nets out at sea. Fishing is not allowed within 20 kilometers fof the Garirmatha marine sanctuary but according to Hemant Rout, an environmentalist and secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society, fishing trawlers routinely do fish there without being interrupted.
Bycatch is one of the biggest concerns to marine animals across the world and threaten populations of sharks, whales, sea turtles and many other marine species that are seeing overall numbers decline sharply.
The Olive Ridley sea turtle, closely related to the severely endangered Kemp’s Ridley, is considered the most abundant of sea turtles but numbers are sharply declining due to people taking eggs out of nests, the female turtles being slaughtered when they come ashore to lay eggs, and bycatch.
Olive Ridley sea turtles come to the Gahirmatha, India in large numbers for annual nesting. As they make their way to the shorelines, they get swept up by fishing trawlers where they drown due to not being able to reach the surface. Once aboard the vessels, the trawlers toss any unwanted catch back into the sea, dead or alive. Most likely, the sea turtles washed ashore were caught this way and were dead as the current brought them to the coastline.
Speaking to The New India Express, Forest Range Officer of Gahirmatha Srirampada Arabinda Mishra said the State Government has imposed a ban order on fishing activities inside the marine sanctuary from November 1, 2018 to May 31, 2019 to protect the sea turtles.
Forest officials have already arrested around 380 fishermen and seized 83 fishing vessels on charges of illegally fishing in Gahirmatha.