Turning Turtle

Feature story - 17 February, 2006
It’s a lot smaller than the Esperanza.  In fact, a few months ago the Sugayatri was just another dilapidated fishing boat.  But with a coat of rainbow-coloured paint and a giant wooden turtle mounted like a figurehead, it’s now the latest addition to the fleet defending our oceans. The Sugayatri has just embarked on a mission to save the Olive Ridley turtle in India.

The Sugayatri, Greenpeace India's boat, defending Olive Ridley turtles.

The boat has been completely refitted to handle its new and verydemanding job: to patrol the waters around Orissa's Gahirmatha MarineSanctuary, documenting and observing the mass nesting of the OliveRidley Turtle, and trying to make this nesting season a little saferfor the Olive Ridley.

The beaches of Orissa, India, provide one of the last nesting groundsof the endangered Olive Ridley turtles in the world. Every year,between December and April, thousands of these beautiful creatures comeashore on the beaches of Orissa to lay their eggs.

Unfortunately, now Orissa resembles a turtle graveyard more than abreeding ground.  The populations of the Olive Ridley arethreatened by various factors like trawling, offshore drilling for oiland gas, and the proposed construction of an industrial port near thenesting sites. Over 100,000 dead Olive Ridleys have been washed ashoreon the beaches of Orissa in the last decade alone.

The crew of the Sugayatri have deployed six buoys to demarcate theboundaries of the marine sanctuary. They have already seen first handthe agony of an Olive Ridley caught in a gillnet. And they have beeninstrumental in saving the lives of several trapped turtles. Nearby,activists have established the "Turtle Witness Camp". The camp wasinaugurated with a traditional Indian ceremony, which was attended byhundreds of fisher families from neighbouring villages.

In the first week alone, our activists and volunteers at the campwitnessed the circle of life in all its gore and glory. They'vewatched, awe-struck, as scores of mating Olive Ridley turtles surfacearound Sugayatri. They've walked the beaches of Orissa, deeply moved bythe many dead turtles literally dotting the sand, and then found hopeagain after discovering flipper tracks. These Ocean Defenders will stayin the area for five months to monitor and document congregationalpatterns and mating of the Olive Ridley at sea. Six weeks into itsinception, life at the Turtle Witness Camp is already a kaleidoscope ofemotions, from awe at the exquisite beauty of the region and the OliveRidley turtles, but also the needless and senseless deaths of hundredsof the same turtles.

Soon the Esperanza will embark on the next leg of our year-longjourney, confronting pirate fishing fleets and their devastatingimpacts on tuna in the Atlantic. In the meantime, the plight of theOlive Ridley is yet another example of a species, like whales,suffering because of human greed.  Follow this emerging story atGreenpeace India's blog, where volunteers, activists and visiting crewfrom the Arctic Sunrise  will describe their days at the camp, anddiscuss the importance of defending our oceans.

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