The Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is one of the five major species of sea turtles that are found in the coastal waters of Indian seas. These turtles are found in abundance on the mainland shores, while the most commonplace for nesting is Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Olive Ridley is extensively considered as turtles that are found copiously as compare to other species of turtle in the world because of its sui generis pattern of large and continuous nesting.
Unfortunately, it is being reported that there is a sudden reduction in their population. There are many reasons associated with it. Some are like the destruction of habitats, hunting and killing, pollution, etc. the coastal states of India where the presence of olive turtles is found have made policies and conservation programmes to protect the population of these turtles.
The Olive Ridley is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Appendix I of the CITES Convention which proscribes trade in turtle products. The most protuberant legislation regarding the protection of the turtles is the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1981 passed by the government of the Orissa. Section 4 of these act empowers the State Government to regulate fishing within certain areas by publishing an order to that effect in the Official Gazette. Furthermore, the State of Tamil Nadu in pursuant to the direction of the Madras High Court forbid the fishing activities either by mechanized or motorized boats within the five nautical miles in coastal water as per Tamil Nadu Fishing Regulation Act, 1983.
Moreover, OMFRA rules were introduced in 1983 by the government which delineated different fishing zones for different fishing crafts. The Orissa Government introduced several legislative measures for the protection of sea turtle under Fisheries Management Regulations, Habitat protection, Fishing rights, and Fishing Gear regulation. Recently, the government imposed a seven-month ban on sea fishing activity along the stretch of Dhamra-Devi-Rushikulya river mouth, in view of the commencement of the mass nesting.
In 1997, the Govt. of Orissa acknowledged Gahirmatha, one of the world’s largest nesting beaches and its waters as the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary (“GMS”) under Section 26(1)(b) of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1986. This declaration of a Protected Area automatically strips the rights of local people on this traditional sea turtle nesting site. Further, the Indian Wild Life Protection Amendment Act 2002, has a provision of declaring certain wildlife areas as Community Reserve (“CR”).
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals done at Bonn in 1979 is the crucial International Instrument providing for cross border co-operation and mandating domestic efforts in the conservation of migratory species of wild animals. Appendix I to the Convention enumerates the migratory species which are endangered while the migratory species with unfavorable conservation status is mentioned under Appendix II which the Convention mandates the conclusion of International Agreements. The Olive Ridley turtle is listed in both the Appendices I and II of the Bonn Convention as it is a species that is endangered and the conservation of which will prominently improve through the conclusion of International Agreements.
On account of its manifestation and its nesting pattern along the Indian coastline, India is a range State in relation to the Olive Ridley and thus assumes obligations under the Convention for its conservation.
The Bonn Convention provides that a Range State will prohibit the killing of animals which are falling under Appendix I of the Convention which would directly apply to the Olive Ridley turtles. However, even the Bonn Convention provides an exception to this rule where it states that where the ‘taking is to accommodate the needs of traditional subsistence users of the species.’
The loss of Habitat is demonstrated by the deteriorating numbers of Olive Ridley turtles that visit the Orissa coast for nesting every year. Several reasons, both natural and human interceded which attributed to the loss of habitat. Artificial lighting along these beaches has been a significant contributor in this regard.
The Dhamra port, which is 30 km along the coastline from Gahirmatha had been cleared and was opened in March 2010 for commercial purposes. Several people have raised demurrals to the development of this port citing that the detrimental effects on the migratory and nesting patterns of the Olive Ridley turtles. Even, while the Dhamra Port Company Ltd. has vehemently defended the environmental viability of the project. The company mentions it as a valid apprehension that the escalation of traffic may have a hostile effect on the number of turtles arriving to nest along the beaches of Orissa. The radiance along the coastline, the establishment of a missile test range, oil projects, the construction of the Dhamra port near Gahirmatha and the setting up of chemical industries near Rushikulya have created a lot of disturbance for the Olive Ridley sea turtles.
The Supreme Court of India in the case of Shri Alok Krishna Agarwal, the petitioner outlined matters related to non-implementation of turtle protection measures and other threats to turtles in Orissa. The court laid out specific orders regarding issuing permits, licenses and detailed documentation of fishing crafts and gear and identification mechanisms. Furthermore, there continues to be a proscribe on fishing within the core area of the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary for any category of fisherfolk and fishing practice. Unfortunately, the olive Ridley turtles are not nesting in the marine sanctuary and the court order has affected the livelihood of the fishermen even though there exists a clause that says that there should be an alternate source of income before the fishing ban.
The High Court of Orissa was petitioned by the Centre for Environmental Law World Wide Fund for Nature (WKF), India to confine the State Government from constructing jetties, fishing complex roads, bridges, etc. within and around the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary. The construction was suspected to be in an ecologically sensitive zone and had the potential to mess up the nesting and adversely affect the population of the Olive Ridley turtle population. The injunction was not granted to sojourn the said developmental activities but in typical fashion laid down directions which the State was mandated to comply with to go ahead with its project.
Furthermore, in Beach Protection Council of Orissa v. Union of India & Ors, upheld the clearance given to the Dharma port project which received denigration from several quarters. The National Environment Appellant Authority (“NEAA”) had failed to distinguish that virtually no State had a precise Coastal Zone Management Plan for designating Coastal Regulation Zones. The NEAA also did not consider other issues, such as turtle congregations offshore, impacts of oil spills, ship traffic, dredging, port lighting on turtles, impacts on the ecology of the Bhitarkanika system.
The Indian Government with International Organisations have taken various steps such as using of TED’s, ban on fishing, etc. but all this has resulted in repercussion from the fishing community. This led to changes in the Government policies affecting the conservation of the turtles. The Government of India’s initiative is living up to its obligations under the Migratory Species Convention in relation to conserving the Olive Ridley turtle has suffered from double standards. The law-making bodies have botched to frame provisions which protect the dwindling turtle population.
The seven-month annual fishing ban on the coast of the sea is the only legislative measure in place for the conservation, which on its own has back-fired on the fishermen on the Orissa giving upsurge to several socio-economic complications. It has also been noted that regional co-operation in this regard has been absent although neighboring Sri Lanka faces a similar task.
 J. Balaji, P. Laxmilatha, K. S. S. M. Yousuf and S. Chandrasekaran, Mortality of Olive Ridley Turtle during nesting season along Chennai Coast, Madras Research Centre of CMFRI, Chennai.  Indian Express, Odisha imposes a 7-month ban on fishing to protect Olive Ridley turtles, November 2017.  Appendix I, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, 1979.  Article I (1) (h), Bonn Convention, 1977.  Article III (5) (c), Bonn Convention, 1977.  B K. Shanker & B.C. Choudhury, Survey of Sea Turtles in the Coasts of West Bengal in, pp. 50-52.  Central Empowered Committee, Government of India, New Delhi. Interim Directions Dated 7th March 2003, in the Matter of Application No 46.  Olive Ridley turtles: Endangered lives, available at: h.  India v. State of Orissa & Ors. AIR 1999 Ori 15.  Appeal No. 01 of 2000 No. 01/01/2000-NEAA available at:http://www.dhamraport.com/download/environment appellate authority order 2000.pdf  Sudarshan Rodriguez & Aarthi Sridhar, Dhamra Port: How Environmental Regulatory Failure Fuels Corporate Irreverence Marine Turtle, 2008 available at:http://www.seaturtle.org/mtn/archives/mtn121/mtn121p21.shtml
(Images used for representative purpose only)