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After several years of increasing levels of aggressive overtourism to India’s famous Bay of Bengal caused a mass exodus of endangered sea turtles from Odisha Beach, the COVID-19 national lockdown that has swept the South Asian country has enabled a stunning return.
For many years, the annual egg-laying of thousands of Olive Ridley sea turtles on Odisha Beach has attracted swathes of observant locals and tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the magnificent birthing ceremony. Last year, lethal poaching and overtourism left the endangered turtles with no choice but to leave Odisha Beach in search of a safer environment.
However, a few days ago, the species, known scientifically as Lepidochelys olivacea, heralded a great surprise for marine conservationists when hundreds of thousands of the turtles made the perilous six kilometre journey inshore to lay their eggs. Despite the evolutionary maladaptive tendency of mothers to crush a small percentage of their eggs upon hatching, female Olive Ridley sea turtles can lay between 80 and 100 eggs each season.
Posting on Instagram, online environmental community RoundGlass Sustain, self-described as ‘a treasure trove of stories on India’s natural world’, posted:
The arribada or the mass nesting of olive Ridleys is nothing short of magic. Olive Ridleys live in oceans and only come to land to nest. When the females grow up, they return to the same beaches to lay eggs. How they navigate back was a mystery for a long time but recent science suggests that individual beaches have magnetic fields unique to them.
According to the Forest Service in India’s Bay of Bengal, well over 250,000 mother turtles have built their nests in just one week, resulting in one of the most successful seasons in decades. Part of this success is being put down to lack of human rubbish attracting the turtles’ natural predators: jackals and crows. According to local experts, there will be more than sixty million eggs laid this year. India’s coronavirus lockdown is due to last for 21 days, with many people expecting a lengthy extension with the peak of the virus yet to set in India.
While 2018 and 2019 saw two consecutive years of sustained population growth of Olive Ridley sea turtles around the Indian coast, this year is expected to be even more successful for the second smallest species of sea turtles in the world, officially classed as vulnerable.