Increased Protection for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

 

A ban on fishing activity along the coast of the Indian state of Odisha was recently enacted by local government officials.  The move aims to protect nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles, who come ashore en masse as part of a nesting behavior known as an arribada.  The ban enacted in Odisha follows an increase in protection for nesting Olive Ridleys in Costa Rica.  The measures taken in Costa Rica were enacted after an unprecedented number of tourists descended upon Ostional Beach, disturbing the nesting of thousands of turtles.

Olive Ridley Arribada in Ostional, Costa Rica

Olive Ridley Arribada in Ostional, Costa Rica

During an arribada, thousands of female Olive Ridleys will return to their natal beaches to nest all at once.  Female Olive Ridleys will lay anywhere from one to three clutches of about 100 each per nesting season.  Arribadas occur, on average, in 28 day intervals, however, it is unknown what exactly signals the beginning of an arribada event.  Arribada is Spanish for “arrival”, and the term has been adopted across the world to describe the mass arrival of nesting Olive Ridley and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.  Olive Ridley arribada nesting beaches are limited to only a few Central American beaches in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Panama, and three beaches along the Indian Coast. 

Odisha is considered to be the largest arribada nesting site in the world, highlighting the importance of the recent fishing ban.  The Odisha Forest Department fishing ban, part of the Odisha Marine Fishing Act (OMFA) is in effect from November 1 through May 31 of next year.  The act bans all fishing from taking place within 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) of the coastline where the Olive Ridleys nest.  In addition, motor boats and mechanized trawlers are prohibited from the coastal waters within 5 km (about 3 miles) of the shoreline.  Camps and incubation centers have been established by the local government along the coastline to protect the nesting females, as well as the hatchlings that will emerge later in the season.  Government officials say that the coastline will be patrolled throughout the season and that violators will punished under the OMFA.

Ostional Beach, located along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is one of two Olive Ridley nesting sites in the small Central American nation that is known for its environmentally friendly mindset.  As female Olive Ridley turtles came ashore on September 5, they were faced with thousands of poorly behaved tourists taking selfies and even having their children sit on the turtles.  Ostional Beach, a protected wildlife refuge, is located along a remote section of the northeastern coast of the Guanacaste province adjacent to the Nosara River.  Access to the refuge during the Olive Ridley nesting season, which coincides with the local rainy season, is usually difficult as the swelling of the Nosara River blocks most access roads.  However, early September saw unusually dry conditions along this section of coastline due to this year’s El Nino event.  This made beach access much easier and the unexpected influx of visitors overwhelmed the local on-duty guides.  The presence of the uncontrolled tourists along the beach in early September caused the turtles to return to the sea that day without laying their eggs, a situation that can cause the females to drop their eggs at sea.  Fortunately, scientists at Ostional report that some nests were found after tourists left, leading them to believe that some females were able to return at night and nest peacefully.

Tourists on Ostional Beach Threaten Nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles on Sepbember 5, 2015

Tourists on Ostional Beach Threaten Nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles on Sepbember 5, 2015

Costa Rican officials and conservationists do not wish to completely prohibit the viewing of the arribada, they just want to ensure that turtles are able to nest successfully and in peace.  After the fiasco in early September, officials, scientists and local guides worked to hastily enact new rules and regulations for tourists wanted to experience an arribada.  Local guides and community organizations have welcomed the additional support provided by the government and law enforcement, who are monitoring local roads and have aided in the closure of four of the beach’s six entrances.  The two authorized entrances are monitored to ensure that all visitors are properly registered and are accompanied by a guide.  Groups are limited in size to ten people, including the guide, and visits may not exceed thirty minutes in duration, down from the previous limitation of one hour.  Guides explain the rules and regulations to visitors while also teaching them about the nesting process and local conservation initiatives.

Olive Ridleys returned to Ostional Beach for another arribada on September 22.  The Costa Rican environment ministry, MINAE, reported that this was one of the year’s largest arribadas, with counts of over 101,000 turtles nesting throughout that day and night, with even more females arriving the following day.  Tourist numbers were much lower for this event than they were during the fiasco earlier in the month, and tour guides reported no problems, with all visitors following the regulations that had been put in place.

Olive Ridleys are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as vulnerable to extinction, partly due to the limited number of nesting sites used by olive ridleys.  Disturbance or loss of any of their nesting sites could drastically threaten population numbers, underscoring the importance of the continued protection of nesting beaches.  Protection of beaches and coastal water in Odisha, India and quick action to manage threats along Ostional Beach in Costa Rica are certainly encouraging actions but Olive Ridleys, along with other sea turtles, need continued protection not just on their nesting beaches but also throughout their marine habitat.

 

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