One of the reasons why Orissa has always been on our travel bucket list is Olive Ridley turtles- beautiful sea turtles with a green- olive shell from where they get their name. We had read up and heard a lot about the phenomenon where female turtles come and nest on the beach for a few days during March every year and when the eggs hatch, the baby turtles make their way slowly towards the ocean. In fact, the coasts of Orissa are the largest mass nesting sites for Olive Ridley turtles in the world, followed by coasts in Mexico and Costa Rica. In 1991 alone, some 6,00,000 turtles nested along the coast of Orissa in a week! And by some quirk of nature, the female turtles come to lay their eggs at the same beach where they had hatched themselves!
Our trip was planned during the long weekend in January that included the Republic Day holiday and we knew we were too early to spot the turtles nesting. But we still decided to drive down to the Ruishikulya beach, at the mouth of the Rushikulya river, which is one of the major nesting sites. We left at 3.30 am and when we reached the village next to the beach, it was still dark. But in a distance we could hear the waves and smell the sea. We waited for the sun to be up and as luck would have it, met this person involved with a NGO for conservation of turtles who told us that while we were too early to see the turtles nesting, we could actually go out into the sea after 8 am, and if we were lucky enough, we would get to see the turtles mating. Turtles choose that time for mating as the morning rays of the sun make the surface of the water warm and cozy!
The first sight that greeted us when we reached the beach was a dead turtle which had died after being hit by a fishing trawler. Two more such turtles had died in the span on 3km. The sight of a carcass with crows and dogs feasting on it dampened our spirits.Click here to read more.
While waiting for the boat, another person involved with the NGO took us to an area on the beach that was fenced off by a wire netting. There, under the sand lay buried, 114 eggs laid by a single female which had nested earlier than usual and the spot was marked with a flag. In another 45-51 days, around the first week of March, these turtles would hatch and make their journey to the shore on their tiny feet and experience the sea for the first time.
We set out at 8 am. A few kilometers out into the sea, the boatman stopped the boat and asked us to look ahead. And then we saw it – an Olive Ridley couple locked in a loving embrace, rolling effortlessly on the surface of the water, until with a sudden splash they both dived underwater away from our prying camera lenses. In the last few hours, we had experienced the cycle of life in a nutshell- first death, then eggs waiting to be hatched and now the process of lovemaking which will actually begins the cycle. As we turned back towards the shore, the salty sea breeze on our faces and the vastness of the sea beyond us, we realized that the human race might advertently or inadvertently disrupt nature’s course, but nature always fights back in its own way. Life goes on. For details on what the road trip cost us click Here