Beach erosion threatens turtle sites in Orissa

August 23rd, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 23 (IANS) The fast pace of beach erosion along the Orissa coast is threatening the precious nesting grounds of sea turtles, says a wildlife activist while pointing out that new ports may add to the problem.”Orissa is home to more than 50 percent of the world’s turtle population. The state needs to protect the nesting beaches which are now threatened by beach erosion that may force the turtles to abandon the state for ever,” Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa, told IANS.

Orissa’s beaches have turtle nesting sites at the mouth of the Devi river, Rushikulya river and the Gahirmatha coast. The state is the biggest nesting site of rare Olive Ridley turtles.

Once new ports are operational, it may add to the problem, Mohanty said.

The state has announced the setting up of 12 new major seaports at almost all major river mouths like at Dhamra, Subarnarekha, Budha Balanga, Jatadhar, Devi, Rushikulya, Palur and Balil Harchandi.

Mohanty said the rate of erosion has accelerated in the last three or four years and, according to a study by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in 2006, over 107.6 km of beaches along the 476-km-long coast are now adversely affected.

The erosion - which sees seawater from the Bay of Bengal eating into the coasts - will be unstoppable unless the state government erects a complete sea wall over the entire 476-km stretch, he said. This, however, may cost billions of rupees, he said.

Scientists are puzzled over the erosion at the Puri beach - with more than 70 percent of it lost - in the last four or five years. Its profile has been quite stable in the last 100-200 years.

“There has been unprecedented erosion at Puri. We feel it could be correlated to the opening of a new mouth at Chilika Lake in 2000 (which connects to the seawater),” he said.

This new mouth is expected to widen. “This could be an ecological disaster for villages and the wildlife found in the lake as the brackish water lake is turning into a saline ecosystem due to a huge influx of seawater,” he said.

“This is expected to lead to a serious loss of biodiversity and affect the habitat of the rare Irrawady dolphins and migratory water fowl.

The lake will then be deserted by the one million migratory waterfowl that arrive here for their annual winter sojourn, he fears.

Studies by the NIOT have revealed the progressive loss of beaches in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary over the last three decades, attributed to the establishment of the Paradeep port in 1966.

Though many experts have been consulted by the state government, the cause is yet to be identified, he said.

No expert is sure why the erosion is taking place, though many claim global warming and post-tsunami changes in seabed could be the causes. “However, we are sure that as per studies undertaken recently, erosion is going on and it is increasing year after year.”

Mohanty said he has written to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, demanding a state-level workshop where researchers and stakeholders like fishermen’s unions, conservation groups and farmers can participate and offer opinions. Fishermen, who traditionally use the beaches to keep their boats, too are losing out precious territory as the seawater eats into the coasts.

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