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‘Tagged’ turtles reappear for Gahirmatha for mass nesting

Endangered Oilive Ridley sea turtles, who were earlier tagged to study their migration pattern, have reappeared for mass nesting on the sandy Gahirmatha beach.

The sighting of ‘tagged’ turtles has given credence to the belief that these marine creatures prefer Odisha’s nesting grounds for mass nesting than any other rookery to lay eggs.

Meanwhile the mass nesting of these delicate and sensitive species, which commenced a couple of days back, is now in full swing. 3,35,099 turtles have already laid eggs on the Gahiramatha beach  the world's largest rookery of sea turtles till date since February 22 night hours. We are hopeful of convergence of more turtles on the Gahirmatha beach for mass nesting as large of congregation of turtles are still sighted mid-sea, said Forest Range Officer, Gahirmatha Forest Range, Mr. Subrat Patra.  

The range officer Patra, who is doing duty at the beach and witness to this unique natural heritage, said ten female turtles with metallic tags fitted on their flippers have been sighted on the beach during the ongoing mass nesting. The figure may be on the higher side as locating the tagged turtle amidst million of these animals under darkness was a Herculean task. There is every possibility of more tagged turtles also turning up to lay eggs.

The state forest department and wildlife institute of India had earlier tagged the turtles with metallic labels to keep tab on their pre and post-breeding migration route.

Around 30,000 turtles were tagged over the years. Significantly tagged turtles were spotted re-emerging at the nesting beaches of Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya river mouth off Odisha coast.

The sighting of tagged turtles turning up on the beach to lay eggs has thrown light on migration behavioral instinct of Olive Ridley sea turtles. Before the tagging experiment was undertaken, little was known regarding movement of these itinerant animals, said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.

Wildlife Institute of India in a joint endeavour with forest department in past years had tagged over 25,000 female turtles. The tagging had been conducted during the arrival of turtles for mass nesting. 

The reappearance of tagged turtles in Gahirmatha provides evidence to the fact that the female turtles return to the same beach annually for laying their eggs, where they were born decades ago.

Tagging is most often conducted to obtain information on reproductive biology, movements  and growth rates. Sea turtles throughout the world are known to migrate thousands of kilometers between their nesting beaches and feeding grounds.  The tagging helps in studying the turtle's migratory route and areas of foraging, said forest officials.

Apart from tagging of turtles for studying their itinerant behaviour, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in 2007 year had conducted an experiment by  fitting four turtles with Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) with online monitoring of migratory routes. The PTT fitted turtles had been found to have migrated south towards Sri Lanka. However the experiment had turned out to be failure as four PTT-fitted turtles had stopped transmitting within two to four months, either due to some technical problems or trawler-related mortality, said forest officials.

In 2007 around 30 sea turtles were fitted with Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) or satellite transmitters by the scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at the Rushikulya beach in Ganjam district and Devi river mouth beach in Puri district besides at the  Gahiramatha, said turtle researcher of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) , Kolkata, Basudeb Tripathy.

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