Project Title: Nest Site Selection and Effects of Anthropogenic Changes To the Rushikulya Nesting Beach, Orissa on Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
Main investigators: Muralidharan. M, K. Sivakumar, B. C. Choudhury
Institution: Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun
Location: Rushikulya, Orissa
Duration: December 2008 – May 2009
Species in focus: Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
Abstract: The olive ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys olivacea is known to nest both sporadically and in arribadas in the Indian coastline. Of the three mass nesting sites on the Orissa coast, the Rushikulya rookery has been considered as a key factor in maintaining the future populations of the Ridley’s in the Indian coast. Though several studies have been carried out on various ecological aspects of the species along the Orissa coast this study looked into a finer scale of behavioural patterns exhibited by the females while selecting the nesting sites. Other aspects that are looked into in detail in this study included the various impacts of anthropogenic activities near the nesting habitat of the turtles including the impact of nest predators. Any developmental projects along the rookery areas should consider its potential impact on the nesting turtles and hatchlings. Illumination and plantations along the rookery could be harmful to the nests as well as hatchlings, which can be avoided or minimised for the successful conservation of Olive Ridley in the Indian Ocean.
Objectives: (1) looking into the behaviour of the nesting females in making active choices while choosing site for nesting upon coming ashore, (2) Observations of hatchling disorientation in the various sections of the beach at Rushikulya with respect to the lighting conditions associated with human activity (3) Temporal and spatial distribution patterns of the nest predators along the entire nesting season of the olive ridleys.
Key Findings: The observed sporadic nesting turtles crawled an average of 47.39 m from the waterline before nesting (Range = 10.7(102m, SD = 21.0481, n = 70). Tests were conducted to check for the possibility of whether turtles were actively choosing their site of oviposition while compared to random placement over varying distances. Beach slope and soil temperature were not found to be significantly different from the nesting sites (Slope – F = 1.289, Temperature – F = 2.241, df = 8 P>0.05) while compared to sites along the track of the nesting turtles, whereas pH and moisture were found to be significantly different from the nest-site to all sites prior to them (pH – F=37.640, Moisture – F = 44.208, df = 8 P<0.05). This shows the possibility of both pH and slope to be amongst the possible proximate cues used by a turtle in deciding a final nest. The effects of beach lighting on the disorientation of turtle hatchlings at this site has already been studied at various levels and this study re-affirms the results of the previous studies by including the effects of lighting acting upon various distances away from the water-line as well as different photic conditions present along the beach and from the adjoining villages. With areas near the villages showing maximum disorientation while compared to areas shielded from light by Casuarina plantations. Associated human activities near the Rushikulya rookery could also act in supporting and maintaining populations of certain animals (feral dogs, jackals), which have had an increased threat to turtle nests. The plantation of Casuarina adjoining the nesting beaches could also act in providing refuge to such predators apart from the known effect of changing the geomorphologic profile of the beach. These predators are known to be able to thrive even in marginalised habitats sustaining their numbers near human occupied areas. These plantations may thus also be aiding an artificial boom in their numbers thus having an increased impact of their predation on turtle nest while compared to natural levels of predation loss.
Degree(s) resulting from project: M.Sc.
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