Odisha celebrates maiden Turtle Festival

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Puri: Puri beach witnessed hundreds of tourists thronging to witness the Odisha Turtle Festival which aims to create awareness about the vulnerable turtle species – Olive Ridley Turtles.

The festival is spearheaded by Cox & Kings Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cox & Kings in partnership with Humane Society International/India (HSI/India) and Action for Protection of Wild Animals (APOWA).

Adorned with attractive stalls, sand arts and striking exhibition of local artefacts, the beach came alive with tourists gathering to revere and promote the idea of Olive Ridley turtle conservation.

Odisha is the largest recipient of Olive Ridley Turtles that recorded about a million of them visiting the coastal state in October 2018. The species has been declared as ‘Vulnerable’ by (International Union for Conservation of Nature) IUCN, just one step short becoming endangered, thus, calling for greater conservation efforts by several concerned stakeholders.

Speaking about the initiative, Thomas C Thottathil, Trustee, Cox & Kings Foundation said,” While we are always at the forefront of conservation of our ecology, we are committed to take this extra mile and commence a property that becomes an annual festival bringing greater attention to the turtle conservation programme.”

“Odisha being one of the top tourist destinations in India, we thought it would be best to weave our conservation efforts with tourism and involve the locals, tourists and others to be a part of the movement,” Thottathil added.

Nothing less than a dramatic story an Olive Ridley Turtle has a fascinating life-cycle that contributes significantly to the marine eco-system. The turtles after having travelled from Sri Lanka and Maldives, they congregate and mate in waters just off Odisha’s shores.

With the female turtles fertilizing the eggs within their body they swim to Odisha coasts after 45-50 days of mating. Nearly two lakh to nine lakh turtles arrive at the beaches and lay more than 100 eggs each. Another 45 days, the young ones from all their nests dig and come out, making their way to the water to join the adults.

However, their journey on land and back to water is threatened by loss of nesting habitats, depredation of eggs and young ones by other animals such as dogs and pigs, artificial lighting, hunting and stealing of their eggs.

Throwing light upon the conservation project by the trio, Sumanth Bindumadhav, Campaign Manager- Wildlife, HSI/India said, “The emphasis of this project is to enable and empower the population in the immediate vicinity of these turtles to reduce threats to them as they are the primary stakeholders and the only means of sustaining any conservation efforts in the long run.

Thus far, our work with Odisha Forest Department, APOWA and Cox & Kings Foundation has enabled outstanding in-situ and ex-situ conservation in the region leading to more tolerance towards these turtles and greater awareness among people- especially children in the region.

Through an event like the festival, we hope more heads from across the country turn towards the work done by the community here, resulting in public pressure that could address some of the major threats to the turtles at a policy level.”

The much-awaited festival is set to be another asset to Odisha’s tourism space that will continue to attract several communities including international tourists.

The one-day event also witnessed beach-clean ups and visits by school students who participated in several workshops. They joined hands to embrace the species and work towards its conservation.

The festival doesn’t coincide with the arrival of Olive Ridley Turtles to keep human interferences at the minimum.

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