Bhubaneswar: Fishing trawlers operating illegally off the coast of Odisha have threatened the annual mass nesting of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, an official said Friday.

The illegal activities intensified in the state’s Gahirmatha beach, one of world’s largest turtle nesting sites, as patrolling by the forest officials has halted.

The decision to stop the patrolling near Gahirmatha in the Bhitarkanika National Park, 170 km from here, was taken following a row over the killing of a fisherman earlier this month.

The fisherman was killed in an exchange of fire with a patrol squad Jan 12.

The row erupted when fishermen of the area alleged that the patrolling party opened fire at them without any provocation, while the forest staff maintained that the fishermen attacked them first.

“After the incident, we stopped patrolling,” Divisional Forest Officer Kedar Kumar Swain told IANS.

Taking advantage of the situation, many trawlers were operating illegally, he said.

“We cannot resume the patrolling unless we have adequate forces,” he added.

More than half-a-million Olive Ridley turtles arrive and congregate in the shallow coastal waters of the state throughout October and November, come ashore and nest between December and March. Most of the hatchlings emerge by May.

Illegal fishing trawlers always pose a threat to the endangered species. The turtles get caught and suffocate in the fishing nets laid by the trawlers or get killed by the motor blades of the trawler engines.

The state government imposed a seven-month fishing ban early November 2013 along 120 km of the state’s 480-km coastline to protect the turtles.

The authorities have also directed the trawlers and boatmen not to carry out any fishing activity within 20 km of the coast during the period, which will be effective till May 31.

Swain said thousands of endangered Olive Ridley turtles have already congregated in the area and they may come ashore for mass nesting any time.

“This year the turtle causality would be very high if the state government does not resume patrolling,” said Biswajit Mohanty, coordinator of “Operation Kachhapa”, a turtle conservation group.

Source: IANS