Bhubaneswar: Olive Ridley, one of the most endangered sea turtles have started arriving near the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in Kendrapada district for their annual nesting.

Pairs of mating sea turtles have started arriving on sea waters, marking the commencement of breeding and nesting season of these endangered aquatic animals, a senior Forest department official said.

He said Forest personnel on patrolling drives have sighted pairs of mating turtles. The sighting of breeding turtles marks the commencement of mass nesting season of these delicate marine species.

Gahirmatha beach off Bay of Bengal in Odisha coast is known as World s largest-known nesting ground of these animals. Apart from Gahirmatha, these threatened aquatic animals turn up at Rushikulya river mouth and Devi river mouth in the state for mass nesting.

While 6,00,362 had turned for mass nesting last time, 20,22,000 baby turtles had emerged from nest to crawl towards the seawaters, said the official.

“On serene surface of sea waters, the turtle surveying teams spotted hundreds of mating pairs along the Gahirmatha coast. Fishing prohibition is presently clamped in Gahirmatha zone to ensure disturbance-free mating of the marine animals.

“After the end of the mating season, most of the male turtles usually return leaving behind the female turtles to lay their eggs,” said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.

The female turtles virtually invade the nesting beaches usually at the dead of the night for laying eggs, the phenomenon otherwise described as ‘arribada’, he said.

After indulgence in instinctive egg-laying, the turtles leave the nesting ground to stride into the deep sea water. Hatchlings emerge from these eggs after 45-60 days. It is a rare natural phenomenon where the babies grow without their mother, said the Forest officer.

The ban on sea fishing has been clamped in accordance with provisions of Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act (OMFRA), 1982 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, he said.

Rise in mortality rate of mating turtles along the coastal water surface led to the clamping of prohibition as the gillnets used by the trawls prove to be messenger of death for breeding turtles.

The mute species, accorded as schedule-1 animal under wildlife protection act for its highly threatened status, get entangled in the nets for prolonged period and die of asphyxiation. The turtles also perish in large number after getting hit by the fast moving propeller of the fishing trawlers, the DFO said.

The rate of mortality of these endangered species is quite high. An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs from which hatchlings emerge after about 45 to 60 days. But not all eggs remain intact as predators devour it. Besides, eggs are also washed away by sea waves during high tide. The eggs are incubated in the nest and grow, sans mother, to emerge as hatchlings, he said.