Kendrapara (Odisha): Putting fears of forest officials and wildlife lovers to rest endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles have arrived in hordes at Gahirmatha beach here for their annual mass nesting.
The one-km long beach stretch along Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 island, close to the Wheeler`s Island missile test range, is now teeming with female turtles digging pits with their flippers and laying eggs.
The mass nesting began last night and about 2.10 lakh female Olive Ridley turtles were spotted digging pits to lay their eggs, forest department sources said today.
This egg-laying by the marine turtles go on for a week.
There was apprehension among the forest officials and wildlife enthusiasts that the turtles would skip their visit this year.
The forest officials are now of the view that the number of visiting turtles would go up in the coming days with the climate remaining conducive.
"Emerging from the sea waters, the female marine species have literally occupied the sandy beaches by force. The Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 Islands are witness to the unique en-masse laying of eggs by the delicate marine visitors," said Manoj Kumar Mahapatra, Divisional forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division.
To ensure safety, a 600-metre net barricade has been installed along the casuarina forest cover close to nesting ground. Wildlife staff are on round-the-clock vigil to keep predators like jackals, hyena and wild dogs away, he said.
As per DRDO`s order visitors and outsiders are barred and only forest personnel on turtle protection duty have access to the nesting ground, forest officials said.
Gahirmatha beach on the Bay of Bengal coast with its ideal beach topography is acclaimed as the world`s largest-known nesting ground of the Olive Ridley turtles.
The Olive Ridley turtles enjoy threatened status equal to that of royal Bengal tigers in the country.
About 50 forest personnel have been deployed on the beach to keep vigil and to ensure safe and undisturbed mass nesting of turtle species, Mahapatra said.
"The presence of forest personnel at the nesting ground did not bother the turtles as they maintained a distance," Mahapatra, who himself witnessed mass nesting popularly known as `arribada`, a Spanish term.
"It`s a virtual treat to watch as these species made their nocturnal visits. Emerging from the seawaters, they headed towards the sandy beaches making some kind of noise," an official on turtle protection duty said adding after laying their eggs in the pits dug by them, the turtles stay more than an hour before undertaking their seaward journey.
An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs, which are incubated in the nest sans the mother turtle and the hatchlings emerge after about 45 to 50 days.
But not all eggs remain intact as predators devour it. Besides, eggs are also washed away by sea waves during high tide, Mahapatra said.