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  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 .
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 . 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  hosted by a coalition of conservation groups . 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 ” 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 . 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 , 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, 98111 90690 email@example.com
Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, 94370 24265 firstname.lastname@example.org
Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, 93438 62212 email@example.com