Turtles nest; port threat persists : Environmentalists

Press release - March 25, 2009
BHUBHANESHWAR, India — Greenpeace welcomed the news of return of mass-nesting of Olive Ridley Turtles at Nasi Islands off the Gahirmatha coast. Reports available from the Department of Forests – Wildlife, Government of Orissa suggest that over 100,000 turtles nested en masse at Nasi 2 – Islands (1). The last two seasons have however also witnessed unusually severe erosion of the Gahirmatha Beaches. The length of the Nasi nesting beach has now shrunk to less than a kilometre, thereby significantly reducing the nesting habitat available for mass-nesting of the turtles in the region.

A file photo of turtles nesting

"We are absolutely delighted to see the turtles return to Gahirmatha in tune with their annual sojourn after giving the region a miss in 2007-2008 turtle season." said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India. "However, this episode of mass-nesting cannot be used as a smoke screen by port promoters in projecting that all is fine. It would be dangerous to assume so since this nesting does not mean that the turtles and the adjoining ecologically sensitive areas, including the Bitharkanika National Park are safe .Our concerns, shared by scientists, academics and other conservationists over ongoing dredging operations for construction of the Dhamra Port, and its impacts on the turtles and adjoining areas, remain (2). In the absence of any credible and comprehensive assessment of dredging and port construction activities on these areas, the significant

ecological threat persists" he added.

Earlier, on March 23rd, 2009, coinciding with the Indian launch of the TATA "Nano", Greenpeace, in an open letter to Ratan Tata, in the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune, reminded the TATAs of their environmental responsibilities, in line with the company's professed environmental ethics, by raising the issue of "Placing the planet on par with profits, because there are some things that money just can't buy back". While the launch of the TATA Nano has generated significant excitement, this has coincided with disappointment among the public over TATAs' reluctance to suspend dredging and commence an independent and comprehensive biological threat assessment. In the last few weeks alone over 10,000 people have faxed Mr. Tata, calling for a suspension of dredging at the port (3).

Heightened protests in 2008 forced the TATAs into a dialogue process with an alliance of environmental and conservation organisations. This hit a dead end in February 2009 after TATA refused to consider any suspension of construction or dredging work at the port (4). The negotiations involved the need to suspend construction, specifically dredging, pending an independent and comprehensive biological threat assessment of the Dhamra Port on the turtles and adjoining areas.

Commenting on the current impasse, Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia said "For Tata Steel to refuse to halt dredging operations, claiming they have scientific advice to the effect that this will not impact the turtles, amounts to embracing voluntary blindness. It not only defies common sense, but throws the tenets of the precautionary principle to the winds. JRD would strongly disapprove of the obstinate attitude of the Tata Steel management towards the fate of one of India's most endangered species. Dredging must stop immediately and independent scientists must be asked to determine the extent to which the port will harm the turtles and other biodiversity."

Over 100,000 people from across the world have already joined Greenpeace in reminding Mr. Ratan Tata of the need to put ecological and environmental imperatives on par with corporate profitability. In 2008, over 100,000 Greenpeace cyber-activists called on the TATAs to relocate the port. A Greenpeace snap-poll of nearly 5000 TATA customers, conducted in February this year, revealed that 98% believed that port construction should be stopped immediately (5).

The development of this port has been mired in controversy (6). Its location for years has been a matter of serious concern to conservationists, hundreds of scientists and academics, including turtle experts, who have opposed it (7).

Speaking on the TATA's reluctance to suspend dredging and commence a study, Fernandes added "Scientists, conservationists and the general public are raising an outcry against this port. There is clear evidence of the ecological significance of the port site as well (8). What more does Mr. Ratan Tata need? If the TATAs want to maintain their professed reputation for being sensitive to social and environmental concerns - they have no choice but to suspend dredging and commence an independent and comprehensive assessment".

For further information, contact

i. Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India, +91-99801 99380,
ii. Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, +91-93438 62212,
iii. Ankur Ganguly, Communications Manager, Greenpeace India, +91-98453 73818,

Notes to Editor

(1) Under India’s Wildlife Protection Act of India, all species of marine turtles, including Olive Ridleys, are accorded
with a Schedule I status of Protection, on par with the tiger.
(2) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/category/docs">http://greenpeace.in/turtle/category/docs
(3) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/fax-tata">http://greenpeace.in/turtle/fax-tata
(4) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/news/dhamra-port-controversy-dialogue-fails-tatas-refuse-to-suspend-dredging">http://greenpeace.in/turtle/news/dhamra-port-controversy-dialogue-fails-tatas-refuse-to-suspend-dredging
(5) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle
(6) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/the-story-so-far
(7) Refer to http://greenpeace.in/turtle/docs/scientists-statement-opposing-dhamra-port-project
(8) The Orissa State Govt. in December, 1997 issued a fresh proclamation under Section 21 of the Wild Life
(Protection) Act to exclude the proposed port area from Bitharkanika Sanctuary. When the final notification for
Bitharkanika was issued in September 1998, the area was reduced from 367 sq km to 145 sq km. Further, when
the proposal for the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary was being drawn up by the Wildlife Department in 1997, the
Orissa state government ordered (vide letter 11693 dated 20/6/97) that the proposed Dhamra Port area be
excluded from the draft notification of the sanctuary.
In March 2007, the Department of Forest – Wildlife, Government of Orissa, proposed the notification of an ecosensitive
and eco-fragile area around Bitharkanika, which includes the Dhamra port area. Predictably, the top brass
of the State Government once again ignored this proposal.
In 2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dr. S.K. Dutta of the North Orissa University
established the presence of rare species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site. The study also revealed the
presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on, and near the area
(http://www.greenpeace.org/india/press/reports/greenpeace-biodiversity). Moreover, the Wildlife Institute of India
conducted a study in 2001with 4 turtles fitted with satellite transmitters. Of these, one is reported in the waters off
the Dhamra Port. To date, this is the only concluded telemetry study carried out on turtles in coastal Orissa for
which the results are publicly available (refer to http://www.wii.gov.in/webs/satindex.html). In a currently ongoing
study conducted by the WII, initiated in 2006, 4 out of 11 turtles fitted with transmitters have been registered in the
off-shore waters, off the port site.