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Lakhs of baby turtles buried alive as squall hits Gahirmatha

The large-scale deaths of hatchlings is a setback for the turtle conservation programme as one out of a 1,000 survives to grow into an adult turtle

PTI | Kendrapara (Odisha) |

Lakhs of hatchlings of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles were found buried alive at Gahirmatha nesting ground as the babies failed to emerge out of pits following compaction of sand particles caused by thundershowers.

Around one crore turtles” hatchlings were expected to emerge out of eggshells, but yesterday’s thundershowers have played spoilsport, resulting in the death of lakhs of baby turtles, officials said.

The large-scale death of hatchlings has been a setback for the turtle conservation programme as one out of a thousand survives the life cycle to grow into an adult turtle, they said.

The bodies of lakhs of baby turtles were spotted buried inside the sandy pits. As the sand mass got compact following torrential rain, the babies were stuck inside the nests after breaking out of the eggshells, Divisional Forest Officer, Bimal Prasanna Acharya, said.

“Though a huge congregation of 6.67 lakh turtles this year had made us jubilant, the spectre of death of the hatchlings has left us shocked,” he said.
The evening hours are ideal for the emergence of the hatchlings from the eggshells, which had commenced on April 23. However, thundershower hit the beach almost uninterrupted, proving disastrous for the newborns, the DFO said.

The beach became wet and compact following the effect of thundershower. The hatchlings were not strong enough to come out of the compacted sand and were buried alive in the nesting pits.

The staff on duty at the nesting ground found the carcass of the hatchlings after digging up the pits where the mother turtles had earlier laid eggs. The female turtles had laid more than two crore eggs as per a conservative estimate. So far around 27 lakh babies have emerged from the eggshells.

Millions of eggs were earlier smashed by nesting turtles who loitered around to find a congenial spot to dig pit and lay eggs.

The turtles, who were not aware of the existence of nests, were sighted digging up the spot dismantling the already existing nests and eggs. Each female turtle lays 100 to 120 eggs and hatchlings emerge out of the eggshells after 45 to 50 days of incubation period.

“Nature”s fury has turned the Gahirmatha beach into a burial ground of baby turtles. It was beyond the control of forest personnel to stop the baby turtles from dying,” the DFO said.