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Rushikulya – The Land of the Olive Ridley Turtle

Madhumay Mallik

Named after the river that originates from the “Kashmir of Odisha”, Rushikulya presents a landscape that screams for help. Yet, it is heard only once every year when the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles prepare for their mass nesting. The rest of the year, the beach lies barren, exploited as a picnic spot by locals and dotted only by a few fishing huts. It’s easy to have never heard of Rushikulya, even if have spent a few years in Odisha. For the explorer, however, it’s part of the eastern Indian coast that can offer many takeaways.

During February-March, every year, the Rushikulya beach gets the attention of everyone engaged in the conservation scene. It’s the time of the year when the Olive Ridley turtles would come for the biggest wildlife event in this part of the country. Termed as ‘arribada’, it sees the largest conglomeration of female turtles coming to lay their eggs during full moon nights and until the wee hours of the morning.

This is a month when you get to see several camps being set up along the coastline, makeshift hatcheries coming up and people from across the country making night stays to witness the event. Each turtle will lay about 90 eggs and after a span of about 45 days, the hatchlings will come out to try and find a way into the water. This will also be the time when Rushikulya will paint the saddest images.

You will see thousands of undeveloped eggs dug up and strewn across. The 45 days will be the time when hundreds of predator and scavenger birds will be waiting by the beach, filling themselves up and wasting more. Similarly, village dogs too have their share of fill. What remains is taken care of by the crabs and humans who constantly step over or are looking for a new kind of lunch. Only a few hundred in a million survive to reach the sea where other dangers would be waiting for them. You can easily calculate the survival chance of a hatchling and it’s not good.

There are a few NGOs that do their bit but it is never enough. It’s not just that death comes prematurely to the hatchlings, but the unauthorized lines of trawlers in the sea make sure that many mating pairs too are killed. The forest department has taken actions against the entry of trawlers during the turtle season but there would be many who don’t care.

After having made the trip, I realized that there are two things that can help the fate of Rushikulya. Either, it should be left alone and let nature take its course or there should be strong initiatives all throughout the year to promote tourism and manage it responsibly. I just hope to see an arribada that is a happy and peaceful place for these precious Ridley Turtles.

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