By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, December 09, 2023: India’s premier agency for military R&D, the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), will pause missile testing at Wheeler Island off Odisha coast during the mass nesting season of Olive Ridley sea turtles from January to March next year to ensure the endangered species wins the race for survival.

Earlier, the state government had urged the DRDO to restrict missile testing off the Odisha coast from January to March — the mass nesting season of the endangered olive ridley sea turtles, an official said on Saturday.

“It is an annual practice to request the DRDO to restrict testings during this time as these locations are close to the famed Gahirmath sanctuary, which is considered the cradle of olive ridley turtles,” the senior official of the state Forest Department said. The DRDO adheres to the state’s request every year, he added.

The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has two major missile testing ranges in the state — Chandipur in Balasore district and the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, formerly Wheeler Island, in Bhadrak district, he said.

The decision to stop missile-testing at Wheeler Island off Odisha coast during the Olive Ridley nesting season from January to March and other measures to save the vulnerable sea turtles were announced on Friday by a committee headed by Odisha chief secretary P K Jena.

The committee highlighted the need to issue advisories to organisations, institutions, and industrial houses along the coast to stick to outdoor lighting regulations, the chief secretary said. The wildlife division has urged the director of the Integrated Testing Range (ITR) at Chandipur in Balasore to provide space outside the periphery of Wheeler Island to set up seasonal forest camps.

Lakhs of Olive Ridley turtles visit the state’s coast every year for mating and laying eggs. While mating starts in January, the mass nesting begins in February at Gahirmath beach in Kendrapara district, Rushikulya beach in Ganjam and the confluence of the Devi River and Bay of Bengal in Puri district.

These turtles are sensitive and it is feared that missile testings might have an adverse impact on their mating and mass nesting. Bright light, loud sounds from missile tests affect turtles. During the last season, a record 6.56 lakh turtles had laid eggs at the Rushikulya rookery and 5.12 lakh turtles turned up for mass nesting at the Gahirmatha beach.

The Army and Coast Guard will patrol the coast to keep trawlers and fishing boats from venturing close to the narrow strips of sand near bays and estuaries where the turtles lay their eggs.

The state government banned fishing in these areas on November 1, and it will continue till May 31.

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