Mobile app can help save olive ridley turtles in Odisha – The Swaddle
A few months ago, the sight of baby Olive Ridley turtles on a beach in Odisha hatching and simultaneously heading out to the waters of the Bay of Bengal momentarily captivated the internet. Counting over a crore, the little creatures waddled across the shore under the watchful eye of officials on duty to ensure their safe expedition. The scene was undeniably healthy and sparked conversations about the future of the species.
Olive Ridley Turtles are an endangered species of sea turtle, which arrive every year on the Odisha coast to nest. Now the government has launched an app that allegedly helps fishing communities avoid these nesting sites.
The “Fisher Friend mobile app”, launched in collaboration with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, will alert fishermen when they approach “no-take zones”. These areas aim to save the olive groves by protecting them from fishing nets and boat propellers.
Fisheries and Animal Resources Development Minister Arun Kumar Sahoo launched the app on Friday, saying the app will work offline to help fishermen avoid nesting areas when they are at sea. This, the app would have functionality to alert users of other potential fishing areas, weather forecasts, disaster alerts and other updates from Indian National Center for Ocean Information System (INCOIS ), reported The Telegraph.
In the process, a fishing ban was imposed in the sea corridor of the Olive Ridley, in effect for seven months in Rushikulya and Gahirmatha, which are the two mass nesting points in Odisha. While a general ban is in effect 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 on turtle conservation. Rethinking fishing practices and involving local communities are some of the key strategies that could be helpful, wrote Elizabeth Devitt, for Mongabay.
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Additionally, the approach reflects a shift away from species-based conservation practices, which ignore habitat conservation and therefore may be inadequate, according to Kartik Shanker, an ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. .
“At the end of the day, management and mitigation actions have been focused on species rather than habitat… Turtle populations seem able to rebound. But what they can’t bounce off is so [nesting] the beaches no longer exist, ”he told Mongabay.
However, it is important to consider whether such conservation strategies adequately protect the interests of local communities. According to a report by the Indo-German Biodiversity Program, GIZ-India, tensions between environmentalists and fishing communities stem from the fact that there is more attention and mourning over the death of a turtle than over the death of a fisherman. “In a history of coexistence, these feelings have been exacerbated by the fishing ban and the constant presence of conservation activities,” the report says.
Recently, fishermen’s associations have opposed the idea that fishing is the main culprit in the loss of olive ridley. A representative of the Orissa Marine Fish Producers Association said industrial effluents were a major cause and any further restrictions on fishing activities would significantly affect their livelihoods.
The construction of a port near the fishing site is also a major threat, suggests a Reuters report. Additionally, offshore oil exploration without assessing the impact on turtle migration can be devastating. “We are very confident that the turtles will eventually abandon the nesting beach… they will never adapt to this level of disturbance,” Biswajit Mohanty of the Society of Orissa told Reuters.
Multi-fiber industrial nets are also a greater threat than those used by local fishermen. “We want the turtles to stay, because wherever there are turtles, there are fish,” a fisherman told Reuters.
The real threat is illegal trawlers, rather than traditional fishermen. It remains to be seen whether the mobile app can help ward off the biggest threats to small sea creatures, or whether all eyes are on the wrong culprit.