Evidence of turtles, rare species at Dhamra: TATA must drop port says Greenpeace

Press release - June 8, 2007
MUMBAI, India — A Greenpeace-commissioned study has unequivocally established that TATA Steel’s port at Dhamra in Orissa would be an ecological blunder, causing irreversible destruction. The North Orissa University team, led by Dr. S.K. Dutta (1) has found evidence of the presence of Olive Ridley turtles as well as other rare species in and around the Dhamra port site. Although the site is less than 5 km. from the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, India’s second largest mangrove forest, and less than 15 km. from the Gahirmatha nesting beaches, the world’s largest mass nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles, Tata Steel have claimed that the port will have no impact on the turtles.

Dr. S.K. Dutta, Principal Investigator of the Dhamra biodiversity assessment study and Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner address the media in Mumbai. Greenpeace, on behalf of Orissa's endangered turtles, is demanding that Tata Steel live up to its word and drop the Dhamra project.

Releasing the report on World Oceans Day, Dr. Dutta, Principal Investigator of the study, said, "This finding shatters the theory that the offshore waters near Dhamra are a no-turtle zone. Even though this is not a turtle nesting ground, over the course of the study, we have recorded over 2,000 dead turtles, victims of mechanised fishing, on the port site and in nearby areas like Kanika Sands." (2)

"Aside from the turtle aspect, the Dhamra area is intrinsically rich in biodiversity and deserving of special protection. The area is very important for horseshoe crabs. We have also made two exciting discoveries on the port site itself: the rare Crab-eating Frog is the first record from mainland India, and the White-bellied mangrove snake has thus far only been reported once on the mainland, from the Sundarbans", Dr. Dutta added.

The port area is an important breeding and nesting ground for the King Crab or Horseshoe Crab, a little known species. Over 1,300 individuals were recorded in the study area, trapped in fishing gear. Further highlighting the ecological significance of the area is the presence of the Crab-eating Frog, F. cancrivora, which has only been reported from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Southeast Asia until now.

"This is the real test of The Tatas' claim to be environmentally responsible, a corporate group that would never harm the environment. Ratan Tata has promised to 'address environmental concerns (concerning Dhamra) in the best possible manner'. (3) Tata Steel have repeatedly asserted that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the port will harm the turtles and if there was they would not build the port. It is time for them to walk the talk. These findings leave them with no option but to withdraw from the project. It is not possible to 'mitigate' damage later. This would also be contrary to the precautionary approach that the Tatas claim to stand by," said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner with Greenpeace. (4)

While the project has been cleared by state and central authorities, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), the basis for this clearance, has recently been exposed by Greenpeace scientists, as being fundamentally flawed and completely inadequate to gauge the project's ecological impacts (5). The Tatas have yet to respond to this scientific critique.

"We are calling upon the Tatas to withdraw from the project in the light of this new evidence. There is absolutely no way they can build the Dhamra port while simultaneously claiming to respect the environment. For a group that prides themselves on their 'legacy', the question they need to answer is, what kind of environmental legacy will they leave behind if the Dhamra port is built?" asked G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director of Greenpeace.

For further information, contact

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner +91 99801 99380,

Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications +91 93438 62212

G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director, Greenpeace +91 98455 35410

Notes to Editor

(1) Dr. S.K. Dutta is a member of the IUCN’s Amphibian Specialist Group and Captive Breeding Specialist Group and is also the Head of the Department of Zoology at the North Orissa University.
(2) In addition to these current findings, a satellite telemetry study, done by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2001, showed turtle movement near the port site. A Greenpeace team also recorded mating turtles in the waters north of Kanika Sands, off the port site, in February 2006.
(3) Letter to Greenpeace, December 2004.
(4) As a member of the United Nations Global Compact, Tata Steel has endorsed Principle 7, the Precautionary Approach to environmental challenges. http://www.globalcompact.org/AboutTheGC/TheTenPrinciples/principle7.html
(5) The Greenpeace critique of the 1997 Dhamra Port EIA can be found at www.greenpeace.org/india/press/reports/critique-of-the-environmental