02 March 2009

Pass the Olives Please

Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Vulnerable

Thousands of dead Olive Ridley Turtles wash up on the east coast of India every year, victims of shrimp trawlers, and fishing vessels using long-lines, and purse-seine and gill nets. Classified as Vulnerable (or in other terms, Nearly Endangered) by the IUCN, these turtles are also facing habitat degradation, over-harvesting of eggs and adults, and the impacts of global warming.

Many, though not all, Olive Ridleys nest in what are known as arribadas. An arribada (the Spanish word for arrival), is a mass breeding event, in which thousands of turtles leave the ocean at the same time to breed and lay eggs in sandy nests. One of the largest arribada sites is located near the mouth of the Dhamra River on the East coast of India, in the province of Orissa.

Currently, the construction of a port is in the works, very near the site of the arribada. The company carrying out the construction is a joint venture between Tata Steel and Larsen and Toubro Ltd., two Indian companies. Set to open in 2010, the port has met resistance from environmental groups concerned about the impacts of shipping traffic and the port construction on the turtles breeding grounds.

Check out a map of the proposed port site and the turtle breeding grounds here.

Although the joint company has conducted an Enviroment Impact Analysis, allegations have been made that it is inadequate and does not take into account all relevant factors. Though the company has partnered with the IUCN to "minimize and mitigate the impacts" of the development, many believe the most effective solution for the protection of the turtles is the relocation of the proposed port.

One of the biggest concerns is an increase in artificial lighting. Both nesting females and newly hatched turtles use light as a cue--the ocean is naturally brighter than land. Artificial lighting disorients many turtles, causing them to head inland rather than towards the sea. The increased industrialization that will undoubtedly occur in the area is another concern, bringing higher levels of pollution, disrupting the local marine ecosystem.

Check out the Wild Foundation, working to prevent the construction of the port.

Write a letter protesting the construction of the port.

Read about the companies environmental policies, and their defense of the port.