Kolkata: Unregulated tourism and development activity along beaches like Mandarmani and Digha in West Bengal is killing turtles including the vulnerable Olive Ridleys, say researchers.
"In Digha intense tourism pressure has resulted in the decline of turtles and based on information revealed by local people, no nesting population of Olive Ridley turtles was observed in the area in the last five to six years," says a latest study by WWF on the status of marine turtles.
East Midnapore`s 60-km-long coastline, which has popular tourist beaches like Mandarmani, Digha and Shankarpur, is less than 200 km away from Kolkata.
The coastline extends to Odisha where in Gahirmatha beach and elsewhere lakhs of Olive Ridleys congregate annually for mass nesting.
The study, conducted by a team led by Punyasloke Bhadury of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata, observed that cars and other four-wheelers were being driven along the Mandarmani beach.
Such activity may have resulted in rapid decline of nesting Olive Ridleys which nest on sand, observes the ecologist in the report.
He said that rampant tourism continued to pose a serious threat to turtles which might be nesting along the coastal areas of East Midnapore.
Developmental activity associated with tourism, he pointed out, could also be affecting the nesting population, if any, in Dadanpatrabar.
Beach erosion is another serious threat to occasional nesting populations of Olive Ridleys reported by local inhabitants.
To counter beach erosion, several unplanned steps have
been taken including casuarina plantations along the coastlines that has affected turtle nesting, the report says.
To prevent coastal erosion, sea walls were erected in Junput, Shankarpur and Digha coastlines.
"The construction of dykes and embankments, as evident in the Junput coastal area, could adversely affect turtle migrations and nesting in the region," says the report.
The researchers found olive ridley turtle carcasses in the beaches of Junput, Dadanpatrabar, and Shankarpur during the study in close vicinity to fishing villages.
"Interviews with the fishermen (10-15 fishermen from each village) revealed that a majority of these dead turtles were noticed during gill net trawling activities in the coastal and offshore waters in the Bay of Bengal," they said.
Fisher folk and local villagers told the researchers that olive ridley turtles caught in the fishing nets were extracted for their meat, which was subsequently sold to aquaculture farm owners for use as fish feed.
Marine turtle eggs were also collected for consumption by the fisher folks.
The prevalence of an age-old practice, where local inhabitants consumed blood of marine turtles for medicinal reasons, including that of reducing blood pressure, was revealed by fishermen.
The WWF report suggests that tourists visiting the region should be sensitised more about the marine turtles and a possibility of introducing wildlife tourism, in particular turtle tourism, can be explored.
Such an initiative could generate revenue for turtle conservation and at the same time create job opportunities for the local communities.
The researchers concluded that the future of marine turtles visiting the East Midnapore coastal belt for nesting is bleak unless conservation steps are taken.