Millions of Sea Turtles Nesting Ashore Amid India Lockdown: Fact Check


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Image about Millions of Sea Turtles Nesting Ashore Amid India Lockdown
Millions of Sea Turtles Nesting Ashore Amid India Lockdown

Story:

Millions of Sea Turtles Come Ashore for Nesting During India Lockdown to Contain Coronavirus.

Other Versions

While India is on lockdown, hundreds of thousands of undisturbed sea turtles came ashore for the first time in years to lay 60 million eggs
This spring was the first in seven years that the mass nesting of the species took place at broad daylight.

Fact Check:

Picture messages doing rounds online purport to show Millions of Sea Turtles come ashore for Nesting During India Lockdown to contain Coronavirus. They say for the first time in years, the turtles shall lay 60 million eggs and the mass nesting took place in broad daylight – for the first time in seven years. The claims are only partially true and explained here.

The story in question is referring to mass nesting of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in Odisha coast during spring season of March 2020.

Frequent Phenomenon, Not Rare

Unlike the messages claim, the mass nesting of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles is not a rare but frequent phenomenon. It takes place in the seashore of Odisha almost every year. The village communities know of Arribadas (a Spanish word meaning arrival) of Olive Ridley Turtles from many years. For instance, in 2018 mass nesting of the turtles took place twice at Rushikulya, in February and April. At the time, nesting figures rose above 4,73,000. The mass nesting did not make an appearance in 2019. Scientists suggest it was because of human presence and massive amount of garbage on the coast and the after-effects of Cyclone Titli.

The mass nesting of tens-of-thousands of Olive Ridley turtles is in fact one of the magnificent sights to behold in India, attracting many tourists. Sporadic nesting of the species can also be observed in states like Maharashtra, Goa, and the offshore of Andaman Islands. The turtles are considered endangered as only few nesting sites are remaining in the world. The sea turtles traverse thousands of kilometers northwards on the Indian Ocean south of Sri Lanka. They land, nest and produce baby turtles in Odisha coast and return after a while. The weather conditions and the natural environmental resources at the place all fit perfectly for the grand continuity of life. Rushikulya, situated in the Ganjam district of Odisha along the Bay of Bengal is one of the most prominent locations for Olive Ridley mass nesting.

Not Mass Nesting of Sea Turtles Amid India Lockdown to Contain Coronavirus

Amid the Coronavirus global pandemic, many countries have slowly gone into a complete lockdown reducing human interference with nature drastically. India also got into a nation-wide lockdown because of which, the messages in circulation claim the mass nesting of the sea turtles took place for the first time in years. However, experts and government officials deny the impact of lockdown on the nesting activities of the sea turtles. They say the nesting activities this time coincided with the lockdowns to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. President of Orissa Environment Society and an Environmentalist from Bhubaneswar, S.N. Patro clarified the same to Mongabay-India:

“I do not think the lockdown period can have any impact on the nesting activities of the Olive Ridley turtles. But what the lockdown can do is that it can reduce the casualties of the sea turtles or the damages their eggs undergo in normal days. However, in the absence of human movements, pest attacks and attacks from other animals, can increase as well.”

Lockdown Effect?

Likewise, perhaps because of the lockdown, the mass nesting of Olive Ridleys took place even during daytime after nearly seven years.

The last time we saw day time nesting of olive ridleys along this site was in 2013. Usually, they come on to the beach for nesting only during the night. This March was special for us as we saw the species visiting the site at night and even during the day, in equally good numbers,” Amlan Nayak, District Forest Officer (DFO), Berhampur (Odisha), told Mongabay-India.

Odisha’s Gahirmatha Beach and Rushikulya Rookery both witnessed the arrival of lakhs of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. On an average, each turtle can lay around 100 eggs in a nest. So, authorities estimated roughly 60 million egg layings in total. In normal times, ships, fishing boats, stray animals and unhindered human movement destroy many turtles and eggs over their incubation period of 45 days. In order to save them from any harm, the forest department ropes in volunteers and fishermen. So, the lockdown can reduce the casualties of the sea turtles or the damages to their eggs.

Hoax or Fact:

Partially Fact.

References:

Lakhs of endangered Olive Riley turtles return to Odisha’s coast for nesting as humans are locked inside
Undisturbed mass nesting of Olive Ridleys at Odisha’s Rushikulya rookery


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Prashanth Damarla
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