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Friday, January 10, 2003

Concern is growing over sea turtle deaths in India. More than 3,000 rare Olive Ridley turtles have been found dead on the eastern coast of India in the last two months.

Surveys conducted by the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Nature Conservation Foundation have indicated an alarming rise in the death of turtles on the east coast of India, where all five species of sea turtle are endangered. More than 16,000 turtles died in the last year in the state of Orissa, home to one of the few mass nesting sites of the Olive Ridley turtle Lepidochelys olivacea .

It's thought that the turtles are suffocating in shrimp nets set by illegal shrimp trawlers who fail to use mandatory turtle-excluder devices, despite legal protection of sea turtles and tough jail sentences for killing or trapping them. Even in the Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary, where controls on illegal fishing are tight, hundreds of turtles are killed each year.

Other threats to marine turtles globally include overhunting, development of beaches where they nest and destruction of their feeding habitat. In Orissa, pollution from factory effluent may pose a new threat.

In 2001, the Convention on Migratory Species made provision for the conservation and management of marine turtles and their habitats in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia. Sixteen countries have so far signed up to the plan to reverse turtle declines. India is not among them, but the government's Marine Turtle Conservation Project and NGOs Project Swarajya and Sea Turtle Restoration Project are working towards conserving India's sea turtles.