A Mobile App May Help Save Olive Ridley Turtles in Odisha
A few months ago, the sight of baby olive ridley turtles on an Odisha beach simultaneously hatching and then proceeding towards the Bay of Bengal’s waters, momentarily captivated the internet. Numbering at over one crore, the little creatures waddled their way across the shore under the watchful eye of officials stationed to ensure their safe dispatch. The scene was undeniably wholesome and raised conversations about the future of the species.
Olive ridleys are an endangered sea turtle species, which arrive on Odisha’s coast every year to nest. Now, the government has launched an app that would purpotedly help fishing communities avoid these nesting sites.
The “Fisher Friend Mobile Application,” launched in collaboration with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, will reportedly alert fishermen when they approach “no-fishing zones.” These zones intend to save olive ridleys by protecting them from fishing nets and boat propellers.
The Fisheries & Animal Resources Development minister, Arun Kumar Sahoo, launched the app on Friday, stating that the app will work offline to help fishermen avoid nesting zones while out at sea. In addition to this, the app reportedly has features to alert users of other potential fishing zones, weather forecasts, disaster alerts, and other updates by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information System (INCOIS), The Telegraph reported.
Following in its heels was a fishing ban imposed upon the olive ridley sea corridor, effective for seven months in Rushikulya and Gahirmatha, which are the two mass nesting points in Odisha. While a blanket ban is in force for the latter throughout the year, the seven-month ban will apply to the former and some other sites in addition. These measures are in line with what experts say about turtle conservation. Rethinking fishing practices and engaging local communities are among the key strategies that could be useful, wrote Elizabeth Devitt, for Mongabay.
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Moreover, the approach reflects a shift away from species-focused conservation practices, which don’t account for habitat conservation and can therefore be inadequate, according to Kartik Shanker, an ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
“When push comes to shove, management and mitigation actions have been species-focused instead of habitat-focused… Turtle populations do seem able to bounce back. But what they can’t bounce back from is if [nesting] beaches don’t exist anymore,” he told Mongabay.
However, it is important to consider whether such conservation strategies adequately safeguard local community interests. According to a report by the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme, GIZ-India, tensions between conservationists and fishing communities arise from the fact that there is more attention and mourning over a turtle’s death than a fisherman’s death. “In a history of coexistence, these feelings were exacerbated by the fishing ban and constant presence of conservation activities,” the report stated.
Recently, fishing associations opposed the idea that fishing was the main culprit behind olive ridley casualties. A representative from the Orissa Marine Fish Producers Association said that industrial effluents were a major cause and that any further restrictions on fishing activities would drastically affect their livelihoods.
The construction of a port near the fishing site also constitutes a major threat, a Reuters report suggests. Further, offshore oil explorations without assessing the impact on turtle migration can be devastating. “We are very convinced turtles will eventually abandon the nesting beach… they are never going to adapt to that level of disruption,” Biswajit Mohanty of the Society of Orissa, told Reuters.
Multi-fibre industrial nets, further, are a bigger threat than those used by local fisherfolk. “We want the turtles to remain, because wherever there are turtles there are fish,” a fisherman told Reuters.
The real threat are illegal trawlers, rather than traditional fishermen. Whether the mobile app can help stave off the bigger threats to the little sea creatures or whether eyes are on the wrong culprit remains to be seen.