A Short Survey on Sea Turtles in West Bengal

Five of the seven species of sea turtles found world-wide occur in lndian coastal waters, especially, in the eastern coast. Of these, the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is known to nest in large numbers in the eastern coast of lndia, while other species may be found in other coastal areas. Survey of sea-turtles and its nesting beaches around the West Bengal coasts were undertaken by NEWS in collaboration with the Forest Department of West Bengal.

Funded By: Govt. of India – United Nations Development programme (GOI-UNDP)
Project Duration: 2006 (1 year)

1) To identify key nesting areas of sea-turtles and to quantify the density of nesting.

2) To identify the species in off-shore waters.

3) To assess population density traversing off-shore waters along this coast twice in a season.

4) To assess anthropogenic and other factors which hinder the nesting population, nesting beaches and survival of sea-turtles.

5) To create a network which will provide updated information of nesting, mortality and conservation.

6) To formulate a sea-turtle conservation action plan for sea-turtles that nest along the coast of West Bengal.

Following are the findings from the project:

1) Habitat: Nesting ground of Sea Turtles is located in the extreme southern part of Sundarbans. Part of it falls under Sundarban Tiger Reserve and the rest is under Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. Under the Tiger Project area, turtle habitats are located at Mechua and Chaimari lslands and under Biosphere Reserve, the islands are Jambudwip, Kalash and Bijeara. The other small nesting ground is situated in a sandy island named Dadanpatrapar, Midnapore district. There are beaches like Digha, Shankarpur and Junput in the State where turtles do not come for nesting, but dead turtles are found in good numbers.

2) Species diversity: According to information supplied by the State Forest Department four species of Sea Turtles occur in the coastal West Bengal. These are:

I. Olive Ridley (Lepidochalys oIivacca) II. Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) III. Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) IV. Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)

But, during the survey, other than Olive Ridley, no other turtle could be located. Only one live Hawksbill turtle was found at Chaimari lsland.

3) Season and atmosphere: It has been observed that maximum number of nests is found during February and March. The turtles come out of the sea water and crawl up the sandy beaches during night, lay eggs and go back to sea again during the same night. lt has also been observed that turtles come for laying from one day earlier to 3 days after new moon and full moon. The atmosphere during the period remains foggy and there is a southern wind.

4) Hatching patterns were studied at Sajnekhali hatching center developed by State Forest Department. Hatchings came out after 60 to 70 days. They were fed with mashed prawn. The weight of the hatchings varied between 15 and 18 grams. The average length was 6.5 cm. The average length of the front and back flippers were 4 cm. and 2 cm. respectively.

5) The following are the main problems of hatching of eggs in nature in Sundarban, which were observed by the study team:

a) Predation of nests by wild boars and monitor lizards. b) Destruction of nesting grounds due to erosion and deposition of fresh sands on the nests. c) Destruction of nests due to fierce wind during depression and cyclone, which often takes place in the coastal zone of Sunderban.

6) Developed a networking with some other activists and NGOs.

7) Held meetings with the Forest and Fisheries Departments in order to install TEDs in the trawlers.

8) Detailed project report was submitted.