Olive Ridley Turtles and Ramayana: Why Spiritual Leader's Event in Tamil Nadu Beach is Causing Outrage
Female Olive Ridley turtles travel thousands of nautical miles to land in India's Coromandal Coast where they were born to hath thousands of eggs. | Image for representation | Credit: Reuters
Dhanuskodi in Tamil Nadu is known to be the traditional nesting site for endangered female Olive Ridley turltles. This year, the practice may be hindered due to an eight-day spiritual event.
Animal rights activists in Tamil Nadu are up in arms after a religious leader from Gujarat chose the beaches of Dhanusahkodi - known to be a popular egg-laying site for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles - to deliver sermons.
Spiritual leader Morari Bapu has been hosting an eight-day event on the beaches of the coastal town, starting from January 2 to January 10. According to a report in The News Minute, the ongoing event has caused outrage among animal rights activists as the beaches from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi are known to be the traditional nesting grounds for thousands of female Olive Ridley turtles.
Who is Morari Bapu?
Morari Babu is a Hindu spiritual leader from Gujarat, who was one of the biggest donors to the Ram temple being constructed in Ayodhya. The leader has been hosting an event in which he has been reading sermons from the Ramcharistmanas, which contains scenes from Lord Ram's life, for audiences gathered in attendance. Dhanushkodi holds a special place in Hindu mythology due to its mention in the Ramayana.
What is the ecological importance of Dhanushkodi?
The 9.5-km-long stretch from Mukuntharayar Chathiram to Dhanushkodi to Arichamunai is a traditional nesting spot for endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Females of the species travel thousands of nautical miles to gather at various locations throughout the Coromandal Coast including the beaches of Dhanushkodi to lay thousands of eggs. Only a few hundred of these eggs survive. The zone is deemed as ecologically sensitive and is located close to the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, the country's only marine ecological park, which launched a sea-turtle conservation program a few years ago to protect the zone as an Olive Ridley nesting site. Due to the conservation efforts, the zone has now turned to an Olive Ridley-friendly zone with conservationists collecting hundreds of hatchlings every year from the site and setting them back in the water. In 2018, over 1,300 hatchlings were recovered from Ramwshwaram in just one day. Dhanuskhodi yielded 927 hatchlings in 2019.
Why are activists outraging against Morari Bapu's event?
The eight-day event is being hosted in Arichamunai. Many including activists and locals have raised their voices against the eight-day event, fearing that the constructions undertaken on the beaches ahead of the event may disrupt the ecological cycle of the sensitive region and prevent Olive Ridley turtles from carrying out their traditional practice of laying eggs. A public interest litigation (PIL) case has also been filed in the matter. Critics have argued that despite the government deeming the site as an ecologically sensitive Olive Ridley nesting site, the local administration went on with clearing approval for the event. As of now, videos shared by independent journalist Sibi Arasu on Twitter, the beaches are currently strewn with hangars and poles for tents, all of which have already started restricting the incoming female turtles.
In Rameswaram's Dhanushkodi, peak turtle nesting beaches are being infringed for an event by the Gujarathi godman Morari Bapu. They have constructed their hangars right on the beaches where the turtle’s nest. pic.twitter.com/pB8fOR6vxF— sibi (@sibi123) January 7, 2021
Even though there is government order notifying Dhanushkodi as a sea turtle nesting site, district administration has permitted the event. Locals are afraid this will create a sordid trend and one person has gone to court. pic.twitter.com/8SKg5pFBln— sibi (@sibi123) January 7, 2021
Who permitted the event?
In an earlier press conference, Morari Bapu said that he had received permission for the event from local authorities. Dinesh Ponraj Oliver, Collector of Ramanathapuram district whose office permitted the event told TNM that the event was well within permissible limits. Claiming that the event was being unnecessarily politicized, Oliver said that his team had consulted experts and found that the gathering would not affect the nesting cycle of the turtles. He also added that the beaches on which the gathering was being held were not the ones frequented by the turtles.
Experts, however, believe that since Dhanushkodi has been marked as an official nesting spot by the Tamil Nadu government, any activities in the area, especially during the nesting season, are bound to have an ecological impact.