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Orissa State, in the north east of India, hosts one of the world's major annual mass-nesting events of marine turtles. Hundreds of thousands of olive ridley turtles come ashore to nest each year in a spectacular "arribada" (mass arrival).
About 150,000-200,000 turtles arrive at the main nesting beach each year. There have been some years where as many as 600,000 turtles were reported to come ashore. This population is considered to be globally significant. It is genetically distinct from other populations, and may even be the ancestral stock of other olive ridley turtle populations in other oceans.

All kinds of threats - natural & man made
This incredible nesting event is threatened by a multitude of dangers, including: bycatch in mechanised shrimp trawlers off the coast in the nesting season; unregulated development of the coast; beach erosion; and predation of the eggs by dogs and foxes.

Impacts of the trawling
In the 1990s the impacts of the trawling alone led to tens of thousands of turtles becoming stranded and dying each year. An estimated 90,000 turtles have been counted as stranded since 1994, and this probably represents a small fraction of the actual numbers dying as a result of this bycatch. In addition, these turtles are known to travel through the coastal waters of India and Sri Lanka to nearby foraging grounds, where they may encounter coastal gill and trawl nets - usually with fatal consequences.

This alarmingly high level of mortality means that this population will probably suffer a severe crash in numbers in the near future, when the hatchlings of the adults killed would have been reaching their reproductive maturity. It is essential to act now, while we can still influence the severity of such a crash.

WWF's work in the region
WWF is implementing conservation strategies with local communities and the state government at the mouth of the Rushikulya River - the location of one of the three beaches where most of the nesting is concentrated. WWF will work with other key partners to develop and support an integrated conservation and management programme of work across the range states of this population. This will include:

  • Beach protection and monitoring through community based reserves;
  • Bycatch mitigation measures, and improved fishing practices in collaboration with the shrimp trawling industry off the Orissa coastline;
  • Advocacy for improved integrated coastal zone planning and management, including strategies to counteract inappropriate beach lighting;
  • Investigating bycatch mitigation measures with partners in Sri Lanka; and
  • Investigating opportunities for local people to benefit from turtle conservation through improved fishing practices, and involvement in turtle-based tourism.
Olive ridley turtle (<i>Lepidochelys olivacea</i>) coming out of the water. 
Olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) coming out of the water.