Turning Turtle

Feature Story - 2006-02-24
It’s a lot smaller than the Esperanza.  In fact, a few months ago the Sugayatri was just another dilapidated fishing boat.  But with a coat of rainbow-coloured paint and a giant wooden turtle mounted like a figurehead, it’s now the latest addition to the fleet defending our oceans. The Sugayatri has just embarked on a mission to save the Olive Ridley turtle in India.

The Sugayatri, Greenpeace India's boat, defending Olive Ridley turtles.

The boat has been completely refitted to handle its new and very demanding job: to patrol the waters around Orissa's Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, documenting and observing the mass nesting of the Olive Ridley Turtle, and trying to make this nesting season a little safer for the Olive Ridley.

The beaches of Orissa, India, provide one of the last nesting grounds of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles in the world. Every year, between December and April, thousands of these beautiful creatures come ashore on the beaches of Orissa to lay their eggs.

Unfortunately, now Orissa resembles a turtle graveyard more than a breeding ground.  The populations of the Olive Ridley are threatened by various factors like trawling, offshore drilling for oil and gas, and the proposed construction of an industrial port near the nesting sites. Over 100,000 dead Olive Ridleys have been washed ashore on the beaches of Orissa in the last decade alone.

The crew of the Sugayatri have deployed six buoys to demarcate the boundaries of the marine sanctuary. They have already seen first hand the agony of an Olive Ridley caught in a gillnet. And they have been instrumental in saving the lives of several trapped turtles. Nearby, activists have established the "Turtle Witness Camp". The camp was inaugurated with a traditional Indian ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of fisher families from neighbouring villages.

In the first week alone, our activists and volunteers at the camp witnessed the circle of life in all its gore and glory. They've watched, awe-struck, as scores of mating Olive Ridley turtles surface around Sugayatri. They've walked the beaches of Orissa, deeply moved by the many dead turtles literally dotting the sand, and then found hope again after discovering flipper tracks. These Ocean Defenders will stay in the area for five months to monitor and document congregational patterns and mating of the Olive Ridley at sea. Six weeks into its inception, life at the Turtle Witness Camp is already a kaleidoscope of emotions, from awe at the exquisite beauty of the region and the Olive Ridley turtles, but also the needless and senseless deaths of hundreds of the same turtles.

Soon the Esperanza will embark on the next leg of our year-long journey, confronting pirate fishing fleets and their devastating impacts on tuna in the Atlantic. In the meantime, the plight of the Olive Ridley is yet another example of a species, like whales, suffering because of human greed.  Follow this emerging story at Greenpeace India's blog, where volunteers, activists and visiting crew from the Arctic Sunrise  will describe their days at the camp, and discuss the importance of defending our oceans.

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