There’s good news for the Olive Ridley turtle as its conservation gets another boost in the State with Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) directing Tourism Department not to allow water sports activities along the beaches of Morjim, Mandrem, Agonda and Galgibaga as these have been designated as turtle nesting sites. But this good news would not have been possible if not for the efforts of a large number of people who have been battling it out in various fora on behalf of the diapsids who have no voice of their own, and are hunted down for their shells and their flesh.
It is strange that the Tourism Department continues to issue licences for water sports activities in the beaches that are designated as turtle nesting sites, as these stretches, by virtue of this designation, come under the CRZ I category and water sports are not permitted at turtle nesting sites. Water sports activity along the beaches during this period will drive away the turtle that comes to land to lay eggs, and also end up disrupting the return of the hatchlings to the sea. The Water sports policy of 2012 that can be downloaded from the Goa government website states, ‘No powered watercraft like jet skies, speed boats and motorized boats shall be permitted in the sea waters close to the shore, since these would drive away turtles who remain in shallow waters for weeks prior to landing on the beach for nesting.’
How then does the department continue to issue licences for water sports at these beaches, when the policy does not permit it? And why does GCZMA have to periodically issue instructions to the Tourism Department not to allow activities near the turtle nesting sites?
The main issue here appears to be that the Olive Ridley turtle comes to shore in Goa between November and April, lays its eggs and returns. The incubation period takes a little less than two months and the hatchlings return to the seas. This period coincides with the tourism season in the State and so affects the business of water sports activity. It is therefore an economic consideration. How about then looking at this turtle nesting a little differently? The Tourism Department and the industry have to join hands to find a solution so that the turtle nesting is not disturbed by the water sports activities. Tourism, however, will go on in the area, that cannot be stopped.
The tourism industry, instead of viewing this as a hindrance to the water sports activities, could market the beaches as sites for turtle nesting and giving tourists the opportunity to get a glimpse of the nesting and hatching process. So, couldn’t this be taken up as an eco-tourism project? It, however, would have to be done systematically taking into consideration the various concerns of turtle conservation and without endangering or even disturbing the turtles. The last would be complex, but it can still be done, and could even turn out to be a profitable business proposition beneficial to all involved.
There are few nesting sites now remaining for these sea turtles and they are classified as a vulnerable species. In India the Odisha coast is one nesting site, and Goa is the other, hence the State has to take precautions to protect the turtles, the eggs and the hatchlings. Once the hatchlings go to the sea, then they are on their own, but as long as the turtles and the eggs are being hatched, the government authorities have to take the responsibility to keep them safe from predators and from activities that can disturb their nesting.