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DRDO turns off bright light at Wheelers’ Island to protect Olive turtles

Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) authorities have installed ultra-laser beam lighting systems for security and surveillance purposes.

SNS | Bhubaneshwar |

In an attempt to curb the light-induced distraction to breeding olive ridley sea turtles, the Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) has masked the high-power light from its Wheelers’ Island missile test range centre, lying close to turtles’ nesting ground.

Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) authorities have installed ultra-laser beam lighting systems for security and surveillance purposes. However, they have paid heed to the state government’s high-powered committee’ request and have masked it to reduce the intensity of the light, said forest officials on Wednesday.

The Intermediary Test Range Centre in the idyllic Wheeler’s Island is lying close to the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 nesting grounds of the turtles. The high-power lights installed at the centre for its coastal security-related watch and vigil programme often disorient the delicate animals.

An official of the Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) forest division said “The department had called upon the defence installation authorities to look into light distraction problems. The DRDO officials have responded positively”.

The high-powered illuminated ray installed at the strategic defence test range centre was a major distracting factor for ridleys. The delicate species while invading the beach to lay eggs often got disoriented by the illuminated ray. Instead of heading towards the nesting ground, the turtles get distracted to move towards the test range centre. The soothing ambience of this natural heritage is adversely affected by high-powered light.

The DRDO has its Missile Test Range Centre in the Wheelers’ Group of Island along the Bay of Bengal close to the coast off Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in Orissa’s Kendrapara district.

The Gahirmatha beach, which is the world’s largest known rookery of these species, has been playing host to lakhs of these endangered turtles every year.

The Forest Department has deployed two high-speed boats to patrol the marine waters of the Gahirmatha sanctuary.

To ensure the safety of endangered sea turtles, 16 patrolling camps have been set up off the coast in Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts. Of them, two are off-shore camps located at Babubali and Agarnashi which come under Kendrapara district.

The mute species accorded as schedule-1 animal under wildlife protection act for its highly threatened status, get entangled in the nets for prolonged periods and die of asphyxiation. The turtles also perish in large numbers after getting hit by the fast-moving propeller of the fishing trawlers.

Last year around 3.5 lakh turtles had turned up at Gahirmatha nesting ground from 10 March to 24 March for mass nesting, a phenomenon otherwise described as arribada. The female turtles had emerged from the sea to crawl on to the serene beach, dig pits to lay millions of eggs.