Greenpeace says Indian port killing rare turtles

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A port being built on India’s eastern coast is a “killing field” of rare Olive Ridley turtles and other marine life, and should be shut down, Greenpeace said on Friday.

A dead Olive Ridley turtle lies on a beach in Konark town, about 43 miles east from the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar March 14, 2007. A port being built on India's eastern coast is a "killing field" of rare Olive Ridley turtles and other marine life, and should be shut down, Greenpeace said on Friday. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal

It said the Dhamra port in Orissa state, being built by Indian conglomerate Tata group, is close to the beaches of Gahirmatha, one of the few remaining mass nesting sites of the Olive Ridleys in the world.

The group recently conducted a 40-day study of the ecology around the port site and came across more than 2,000 turtles, rare horseshoe crabs, crab-eating frogs, dolphins and snakes, killed by mechanized fishing boats.

The port site is not a turtle nesting ground, but is part of the breeding and feeding ground for many species and is intrinsically rich in bio-diversity, it said.

“The Tatas, who claim to be a socially responsible company, now have to decide if they want to place profits above environment,” Ashish Fernandes, Greenpeace’s oceans campaigner, told a conference.

“We have an incontrovertible scientific critique of their project and we have sent a report to them as well.”

The Tatas had earlier said the port would not harm the turtles and if it did they would not build the project, Fernandes said.

“The port is being built after obtaining all necessary clearance from the relevant authorities,” Santosh Mohapatra, chief executive of Dhamra Port Company Limited, told Reuters.

“Not only did the National Environment Appellate Authority say the port site is unsuitable for turtle nesting but also it is suitably far from the mass nesting site.”

Work has just begun on Dhamra port, an all-weather facility expected to be operational by the end of 2009.

The port’s draught is 18 metres, which would make it India’s deepest port. Its 13 berths can handle more than 80 million tonnes of cargo per year.

“Once you have a port it will lead to ancillary development. This is not good news for the local ecology,” said S.K. Dutta, a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature group, which conducted the Greenpeace study.

Hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridleys swim up to Orissa’s beaches every year to nest, but their numbers are falling drastically, victims of government neglect and rapid industrialization.

Greenpeace says more than 120,000 turtles have been washed up dead on Orissa’s shores in the past 12 years, most caught in the nets of trawlers, which the law says should not be there. Total deaths could have been significantly higher.