Turtle patrol unit attacked in mid-sea attack, six forest personnel injured

Bhubaneswar: In the latest mid-sea confrontation, the crews of sea-worthy fishing trawls allegedly attacked turtle patrol vessels in prohibited seawaters of Gahirmatha sanctuary, injuring at least six forest personnel.

It was an organized attack by the crews of a fleet of about eight fishing trawls, illegally fishing at the prohibited seawater. It occurred during midnight hours on Tuesday. One of the patrol vessels deployed by the state forest department for turtle protection was damaged following the attack. Of the 13 crews in the forest patrol, five were injured, said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bikash Chandra Dash.

The forest patrol vessel was engaged in turtle protection drive when a fleet of eight trawls chased the patrol vessel. The crews of patrol vessel were outnumbered by those in intruding trawls. We asked the crews of fishing trawls to give in through a handset microphone. All of a sudden, they marched towards us and intentionally collided with the patrol vessel. The outer body of the patrol vessel was damaged following the collision. Despite being provoked, the patrolling crews did not open fire in self defence, said Gahirmstha forest range officer, Debashis Bhoi.

The fishing vessels had trespassed into prohibited sanctuary corridors contravening the provisions of wildlife protection act, Orissa Marine fishing regulation act and mandatory rules of marine sanctuary.

As is the practice, the state government in a bid to curb high mortality of these marine species has prohibited fishing activity within a seaward radius of 20 km from Gahirmatha marine sanctuary from 1st November in accordance with sections 2, 7 & 4 of Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act (OMFRA), 1982.

Around 1.35 lakh Olive Ridley turtles have turned up at the Gahirmatha beach for mass nesting that commenced last week. The beach, widely regarded as World’s largest rookery of Olive Ridley Sea turtles, had played host to 4.50 lakh turtles for mass nesting last year. We are expecting this year’s mass nesting to continue for seven to eight days more. Round the clock watch and vigil is being maintained at the rookery to ensure the safety of nests, informed Divisional Forest Officer, Dash.

The Olive turtles turn up in millions for mass nesting along the Odisha coast every year. Gahirmatha beach off Bay of Bengal coast in Kendrapara district is incidentally acclaimed as World’s largest-known nesting ground of these animals. Apart from Gahirmatha, these threatened aquatic animals turn up at Rushikulya river mouth and Devi river mouth for mass nesting, otherwise called arribada.

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