TATA port threatens sea turtles, charge conservationists

Construction must stop to save endangered sea turtles

April 05, 2008

Gahirmatha’s
seas are one of the world’s largest breeding areas for the Olive Ridley
Turtle. The Dhamra port could signal the end of this habitat forever.


Delhi, India — A coalition of Indian conservationists, comprising
Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the Wildlife Society of
Orissa (WSO) and Greenpeace India, has called on TATAs to reconsider
their Dhamra Deepwater Port [1] in Orissa, citing the threat it poses
to endangered sea turtles and two important Protected Areas.
Construction on the Port is proceeding in the absence of a
comprehensive Environment Impact Analysis and with disregard to the
Precautionary Principle, which TATA Steel professes to adhere to as a
member of The Global Compact [2].

Speaking
to the media, Belinda Wright, Executive Director of WPSI, said “The
olive ridley turtle is a species that enjoys the same legal protection
as the tiger. Yet despite its ecological significance, the Dhamra area
was purposely excluded from Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha Sanctuaries to
facilitate the Dhamra Port [3]. It is amazing that while trawling is
rightly banned to protect the turtles, the Orissa state government is
bending over backwards to assist a huge industrial project in the same
area, which will probably drive away the turtles for good.”

The
Dhamra Port is coming up less than 5 km from Bhitarkanika Sanctuary and
less than 15 km from Gahirmatha’s beaches, one of the largest mass
nesting sites for the olive ridley turtle in the world.
Conservationists highlighted the Port’s potential environmental impacts
when it was first proposed in the 1990s. In April 2004, the Supreme
Court appointed Central Empowered Committee had recommended that the
Dhamra Port be relocated.

Over 100 leading
scientists from India and across the world have also called on TATA
Steel, the joint promoters of the Dhamra Port, to halt the project in
light of potential impacts on sea turtles and the environment, through
a petition campaign [4] hosted by a coalition of conservation groups
[5]. The list includes over 20 scientists from the Marine Turtle
Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN,
besides other renowned conservationists and researchers. The petition
also urges the Orissa state government to protect the Dhamra area.

Conservationists
charge that in the absence of a credible Environment Impact Analysis
and baseline ecological data, no mitigation plan, even if prepared by
the best experts, will be an adequate safeguard. Significantly, there
has been no mass nesting at Gahirmatha this season. In the past, even
minor disturbances have been enough to prevent turtles nesting, so the
influence of ongoing dredging for port construction cannot be ruled
out.

“There are alternatives to Dhamra that
TATAs must explore. A study commissioned by the Government of Orissa
and conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, has
identified several potential port sites [6]” said Biswajit Mohanty,
Secretary of WSO “The ongoing expansion of Paradip Port will also
provides the state with sufficient cargo capacity. If TATAs are as
environment friendly as they claim, they must make the effort to shift
to another location further away from the turtle nesting grounds,
rather than seeking to hide behind mitigation plans that can never be a
proper safeguard against the impacts”, he added.

In
2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dr. S.K.
Dutta of the North Orissa University established the presence of rare
species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site [7]. The study also
revealed the presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on and near the
area. TATA is yet to respond to these findings, despite earlier
committing to reconsider their role in the project if evidence of
ecological significance was presented.

The pressure on TATA is mounting, with Greenpeace’s cyber campaign (www.greenpeace.org/india/turtles)
providing a platform for the public to voice their concerns on this
issue. Over 9,000 people have already written to Ratan Tata within
three days of its launch.

“The scientific
community is advising against this port, fishermen have opposed it [8],
science has shown the presence of rare species in the area, and now the
public is adding its voice to the conservation community. What more
does Mr. Ratan Tata need? As a global corporation with a growing
presence overseas, TATA needs to show that its commitment to the
environment goes beyond mere lip service, by halting work on the port
immediately”, said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
India.

For more information, contact:

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace, 99801 99380 ashish.fernandes@greenpeace.org
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, 98111 90690 belinda@wpsi-india.org
Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, 94370 24265 kachhapa@gmail.com
Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, 93438 62212 stripath@in.greenpeace.org

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Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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