Marine turtles along the Indian coast

Posted on
24 June 2013
India has a coastline of more than 8000 km which is rich in biodiversity. Apart from sustaining fishing grounds, India’s coastal waters and beaches provide foraging and nesting sites for a variety of marine species, including sea turtles. Five species of sea turtles are known to inhabit Indian coastal waters and islands.

These are the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles. Except the Loggerhead, the remaining four species nest along the Indian coast.

Though many of the ecological interconnections influencing sea turtle behavior and biology remain unclear, it is known that sea turtles occupy a unique position within the food web. They consume an assortment of prey, including puffer fish, crustaceans, sponges, tunicates, sea grasses, and algae. The unusual life cycle of the animal plays a vital role in transportation of nutrients from the highly productive marine habitats such as sea-grass beds to energy-poor habitats like sandy beaches. This helps reverse the usual flow of nutrients from land to sea.

Threats to marine turtles in India are many, and varied. Some of the major threats include unplanned beach development (including ports, lighting, tourism and plantations), by-catch mortality (in trawl nets and gill nets), weak enforcement of fisheries and Protected Area regulations and, to a limited extent, killing of turtles for meat and the poaching of eggs.

The coastal state of Odisha on the eastern coast of India experiences one of the world’s largest mass nestings or arribada of the Olive Ridley turtle during the months of October to April. Three of the world’s major mass nesting beaches for this species are located in Odisha, supporting a nesting population of probably more than half a million Olive Ridleys, making this one of the most critical conservation areas for this species globally.


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