Stop Port Construction; Save Ridley Sea Turtles / IndiaPublished by MAC on 2007-08-31
Stop Port Construction; Save Ridley Sea Turtles / India
GLOBAL RESPONSE ACTION ALERT # 3/07
31st August 2007
Also available at: www.globalresponse.org
For a model letter, see http://www.globalresponse.org/gra.php?i=current
"If TATA Steel goes ahead with the project at the proposed site, the port would not only seal the fate of the Olive Ridley sea turtles of Orissa but also pave the way for one of the biggest ecological disasters along the eastern coast of India….As sea turtles are migratory creatures, we feel that the entire world should be concerned over this looming threat and the failure of Indian authorities to safeguard their breeding and nesting grounds."
--Biswajit Mohanty, Coordinator of Operation Kachhapa, Orissa, India
The Olive Ridley sea turtle offers one of nature's greatest spectacles. Each year, Olive Ridleys return from their inter-oceanic migrations to the beaches where they were hatched. Hundreds of thousands congregate and mate in the offshore waters. Then, as if on cue, the females lumber ashore to lay their eggs. Their arrival -- tens of thousands on a given beach -- is heralded by the Spanish term for this remarkable event, the arribada.
Arribadas occur in only three locations worldwide. One of the largest is on the coast of Orissa state in India. To protect the endangered sea turtles, the Gahirmatha coast is designated a Marine Sanctuary. The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, a Ramsar wetland site, offers further protection for a mangrove forest ecosystem, which is a nursery for a wealth of marine life. The Olive Ridleys depend on the fertility of the mangrove ecosystem for food each year when they congregate for mating and the arribada.
How is it possible that the Orissa state government is permitting construction of a massive deep-water industrial port less than 15 kilometers from the Olive Ridleys' nesting beaches? If completed, the Dhamra port will be one of the largest in South Asia, with 17-kilometer channels dredged deep and wide enough to accommodate the world's largest vessels. Environmental organizations and local fishermen's unions are asking the international community to help them stop construction of the Dhamra Port at this location where its impacts on the sea turtles could spell extinction and its impacts on local fishermen could spell ruin.
Threats to Turtles and Fishing Communities
Sea turtle hatchlings break out of their sandy nests at night and must quickly find their way to the sea. They move across the sand toward the brighter horizon, the moon- and star-lit ocean. Artificial light from ports and populated areas disorients the hatchlings and they may never reach the sea. Artificial light also disorients the nesting females. In fact, Operation Kachhapa, a sea turtle conservation organization, charges that illumination from a mega-port at Dhamra could cause the Olive Ridleys to abandon the Orissa beaches entirely. And go where?
Dredging for the port's ship channels and construction of a 750-meter jetty will change sedimentation patterns, and these will affect the shape, dimensions, sand grain size and vegetation of the nesting beaches. These disturbances may also inhibit nesting.
Pollution, oil spills and ballast water discharged from the giant cargo ships would contaminate the nearby mangrove ecosystem, affecting the entire marine food chain. Local fishermen, whose livelihoods depend on the health of these fish breeding and spawning grounds, have joined the fight against the Dhamra port. K. Allaya, General Secretary of the Orissa Traditional Fishworkers' Union, charges, "The Dhamra Port Project has ignored the basic livelihood needs of local communities, taking away their land, their fishing grounds and the productivity of the sea on which thousands depend."
The port project's Environmental Impact Assessment was done in 1997, but environmental organizations charge that it lacks any analysis of impacts on turtles and port site ecology.
TATA Steel, a very influential company in India, is building the Dhamra Port in a joint venture with the engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro. Although TATA originally maintained that they would reconsider the port site if it is established that Olive Ridleys are present in the area, they have ignored the findings of a team from North Orissa University that unequivocally established the presence of turtles in the area. As evidence, the research team recorded over 2,000 fresh turtle carcasses at and near the port site. Adding to the area's ecological significance, they also found several rare species, among them horseshoe crabs, snakes and frogs seldom found on the Indian mainland.
As a member of the U.N.'s Global Compact for Corporate Responsibility, TATA Steel is pledged to the Precautionary Principle. With the survival of rare and ancient species hanging in the balance, this is a time to practice precaution.
How We Can Help:
Environmental organizations and fishing unions in Orissa urge us to help them stop construction of the Dhamra port by sending letters to TATA Steel and Orissa government officials. In your letters, please
a.. Express your appreciation for the establishment of protected areas along the Orissa coast, including the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary and the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, which are critical to the survival of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle and a wealth of marine life.
b.. Urge the Orissa government to continue to protect this ancient and endangered species and preserve the livelihoods of local fishing communities by revoking its approval for the Dhamra port.
c.. Urge TATA Steel to apply the Precautionary Principle as required by the Global Compact and to uphold its reputation for environmental responsibility by relocating its port facility to a site where it will not threaten endangered species, critical ecosystems and fishermen's livelihoods.
A model letter is available here.
Mr. Ratan Tata
Chairman, TATA Sons
24, Homy Modi Street
Bombay: 400001 INDIA
Fax: Int'l Code + 91 22 6665 7724
Mr. Shri Naveen Patanaik
Chief Minister, Orissa
Dist.-Khurda (Orissa) INDIA
Fax: Int'l Code + 91 67 4259 0833
This Global Response Action was issued at the request of and with information provided Operation Kachhapa ( www.wpsi-india.org/projects/operation_kachhapa.php), the Orissa Traditional Fishworker's Union (OTFWU); Greenpeace India ( www.greenpeace.org/india/); and the WILD Foundation (www.wild.org ). For Greenpeace's critique of the Dhamra port EIA, see www.greenpeace.org/india/press/reports/critique-of-the-environmental. For more on the U.N.'s Global Compact, see www.unglobalcompact.org/ and on the Precautionary Principle, see www.iucn.org/themes/law/pdfdocuments/LN250507_PPGuidelines.pdf and www.precaution.org/lib/pp_def.htm .
*Thanks to Bivash Pandav for the Ridley Turtle Photos and to Erin King for the India Map Graphic
Paula Palmer, Executive Director
PO Box 7490
Boulder CO 80306 USA