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National Marine Turtle Action Plan
Leatherback nesting sites could be overrun by Andamans development project
WHY IN NEWS:
Proposed intensive growth in islands contradicts National Marine Turtle Action Plan released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3: Conservation of Flora and Fauna
- Proposals for tourism and port development in the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) Islands have conservationists worried over the fate of nesting populations of the Giant Leatherback turtle in the Indian Ocean.
GIANT LEATHERBACK TURTLE
- The largest of the seven species of sea turtles on the planet and also the most long-ranging, Leatherbacks are found in all oceans except the Arctic and the Antarctic.
- Within the Indian Ocean, they nest only in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- Surveys conducted in the A&N Islands over the past three decades have shown that the populations here could be among the most important colonies of the Leatherback globally.
- There is concern now, however, that at least three key nesting beaches — two on Little Andaman Island and one on Great Nicobar Island — are under threat due to mega “development” plans announced in recent months.
- These include NITI Aayog’s ambitious tourism vision for Little Andaman and the proposal for a mega-shipment port at Galathea Bay on Great Nicobar Island.
LITTLE ANDAMAN IN FOCUS
- The Little Andaman plan, which proposes phased growth of tourism has sought the de-reservation of over 200 sq km of pristine rainforest and also of about 140 sq km of the Onge Tribal Reserve.
- Two sites where key components of the tourism plan are to be implemented are both Leatherback nesting sites — South Bay along the southern coast of the island and West Bay along its western coast.
- The roughly 7-km-long beach at West Bay has been the site of ongoing marine turtle research projects.
- Satellite-tagged female turtles have been tracked swimming up to 13,000 km after nesting on West Bay, towards the western coast of Australia and southwest towards the eastern coast of Africa.
TURTLES VS TORTOISES
- Most people use the term “turtle” to reference any reptile with a shell on its back, but there are several differences between these two unique creatures.
- In actual sense tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises.
- Turtle shells are more streamlined to aid in swimming. One major key difference is that tortoises spend most of their time on land and turtles are adapted for life spent in water.
NATIONAL MARINE TURTLE ACTION PLAN
- To establish a network of partners in the Indian sub-continent.
- The project contains ways and means to not only promote inter-sectoral action for conservation but also guide improved coordination amongst the government, civil society and all relevant stakeholders.
- It highlights actions to be taken for handling stranded animals on the shore, stranded or entangled animals in the sea or on a boat, reducing threats to marine species and their habitats, rehabilitation, etc.
- It also asks for assessments of the environmental impact of marine and coastal development that may affect marine turtle populations and their habitats.
- Developments in the A&N Islands indicate, however, that even as the action plan was being finalised, decisions were being made in violation of its basic concerns and premises.
- India has rich marine biodiversity along a vast coastline of over 7,500 km.
- It has significant nesting and feeding grounds for four species of marine turtles, namely leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
- The plan notes that “India has identified all its important sea turtle nesting habitats as ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and included them in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) – 1”.