The government of Orissa recognizing the importance of this species, roped in several local and foreign NGO’s, and together they launched a campaign to create a safe haven, untouched and unpolluted, where the turtles could breed and increase their numbers. Thus the Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary came into being. Spread over an area of 1435sq.km this sanctuary, the yellow sands of this beach has been the preferred location for the turtles who here year after year without fail. This proves that the endeavors of the government and the NGO’s have been wholly successful. Fishermen and fishing trawlers are banned from entering the waters that has been chalked as being a part of the sanctuary and same is the case with factories that have been moved from the protected location.
Now not only the turtles but also several species of rare birds have started migrating to the Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary. The sanctuary is but a living banner of the grim determination of Orissa state whose beaches till a few decades back used to be strewn with the dead bodies of turtles and other animals. Whether due to the activities of the fishermen or due to excessive water pollution, the sea had literally become a watery grave for the turtles. Moreover turtle meat is prized as a delicacy in among the fishing communities in Orissa and other parts of the country. Turtle eggs used to be legally collected by big fishermen in exchange of revenue (andakara), and the Landlords of Kanika Raj fattened their pockets at the cost of these innocent creatures. In fact the prosperous state of Bengal especially imported live turtles by train for the meat market. Even after Independence this practice was allowed to continue.
Once you visit this magical state of Orissa with its rich culture and heritage, your tour itinerary can be so planned that the Eco Tour gets clubbed with the local sightseeing of various parts of the state, thus enabling you to enjoy the best of both worlds. For your knowledge of the five of the six species of turtles found in the Indo-Pacific region is also found in India, and four of them are regularly sighted in the waters of Orissa. They are Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and Green (Chelonia mydas). The giant olive Ridley is the most common.
These turtles are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act – Schedule 1 of the 1972 act (amended 1991)
The trade of sea turtles and other exotic sea creatures is prohibited in the India ever since it became an official member of CITES and the CMS or Convention on Migratory Species. One can be fined an amount not less than five thousand and be sentenced to about five years in the state penitentiary if charges of harassment of turtles, which includes disturbing their nests or stealing their eggs are proved against accused.
There is another National Park in Orissa, which is doing commendable work in the protection of another endangered species – the crocodile. The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park forms the second largest mangrove forest in India, the largest being the “Sundarbans” in Bengal.