Bhubaneswar: The mass breeding of rare Olive Ridley turtles is likely to be hit due to the sinking of a cargo ship, carrying iron ore fines and oil, in the Bay of Bengal off the Orissa coast two days ago, a marine expert warned Friday.
The Mongolian vessel capsized in the harbour area of Paradip port, some 100 km from here, carrying about 25,000 tonnes of iron ore fines and 900 tonnes of oil.
The site where the ship has gone down is very close to the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, one of the few remaining nesting sites for Olive Ridley turtles in the world. The turtles come to the site every year around this month for breeding.
Port authorities say they have deployed officials and taken all steps to prevent any spillage from the ship, but Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, a turtle conservation group, said he sees a threat to the turtles.
The ship contains iron ore fines which can be washed away by sea currents. If the iron ore fines settle on the floor of the sea, benthic fauna - tiny creatures found on and within the seabed - can be wiped out inside the sanctuary, Mohanty said.
"That could lead to a food crisis for turtles. The authorities must step in and recover the oil completely before it spills off into the surrounding environment," Mohanty said.
Senior port officials said they have already apprised the ship owner about the possible danger.
"Certainly it will affect marine life if the oil spills. We are keeping a close watch and taking steps to prevent pollution," the port`s deputy chairman Biplav Kumar said, adding no spillage had been reported from the ship so far.
The Olive Ridley turtle, which can grow up to 75 cm in length, is found in tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In India, they are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Orissa is home to more than 50 percent of the world`s turtle population. Besides Gahirmatha in Kendrapada district, the other mass nesting sites are the Devi river mouth in Puri district and the Rusikulya river mouth Ganjam district.
The turtles start arriving in the coastal water from end of September onward and return in the month of May after mass nesting.