Conservation of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles by Pir Jahania Jungle Surakshya Committee, Odisha


Olive Ridley sea turtles are one of the smallest and most abundant sea turtle species, inhabiting the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. About 3 feet in length, they get their name from their olive-green, heart-shaped carapace. These turtles are best known for their unique mass nesting, referred to as ‘Arribada’, where thousands of females come together on the beaches to lay eggs. According to the IUCN Assessment Report, there has been a 30-50% reduction in the global Olive Ridley population.

Need for the Initiative

Until the early 1990s, these turtles were harvested for eggs during the nesting season or vulnerable to accidental capture as by-catch. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has classified the species as ‘vulnerable’, highlighting the declining trend in its population. The beaches of the Gundalaba village, located at the mouth of the Devi River in the coastal region of the East Indian state of Odisha, serves as one of the turtle’s mass nesting sites. Community Conservation Initiatives (CCIs) in Gundlaba and surrounding villages were triggered by the super cyclone of 1999 that almost destroyed the mangrove and coastal Casuarina coverage and resulted in a mass casualty along with loss of livestock, crops and soil fertility.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Faced with multiple challenges, the women of Gundalaba instituted the Pir Jahania Jungle Suraksha Women’s Committee in the year 2000 for carrying out conservation activities. The Committee comprises 60 members, with one female representative from each household in the village. The main objective of the committee is to restore and conserve the forest and coastal ecosystem while providing alternate livelihood opportunities to local communities and creating awareness regarding the significance of ecosystem conservation. The committee holds monthly meetings where it formulates guidelines and passes resolutions required for conservation and management of forests. The meetings are presided over by the president and secretary of the women’s committee and are attended by local forest officers. Resolutions are passed only when the decision is accepted by two thirds of the committee members, following which the result is shared with the rest of the community in a Palli Sabha (village meeting). The Forest and Wildlife Department provides technical and advisory support as and when required. The committee monitors the coastal and mangrove forest areas through rotational patrolling, a practice locally referred to as, ‘Thengapalli’. Forest management guidelines have been formulated for regulating the extraction of non-timber forest products and hunting activities. Specific conservation initiatives have been undertaken for protecting Olive Ridley turtles by carrying out regular patrolling of the nesting grounds for protection of eggs and hatchlings from external threats, maintaining records of the total number of eggs and hatchlings released back into the sea each season. A hatchery was established in partnership with the forest department to collect eggs, rear hatchlings and release the turtles back to the sea, and implement strict fishing norms during the mating and nesting season. A learning center has been established, to support tourism activities during the breeding season of the turtles. The youth from the community are also engaged in conservation activities. As a result of the initiatives, a 63% increase in the mangrove vegetation was recorded by 2004. The Committee now manages approximately 15 of Casuarina and 5 of mangrove forests in and around the mouth of the Devi River. A significant increase in terrestrial and marine fauna has been observed comprising chital deer, hyenas, jackals, migratory birds, humpback dolphins and finless porpoises. There is ample availability of fuel wood and fodder from the forests and the increase in the population and variety of fish has resulted in a fivefold increase in the catch. The average annual household income, which used to be almost negligible after the natural disaster, has risen to USD 892.7. Despite the significant influence of these initiatives on the ecosystem, the frequent onslaught of natural disasters has devastating impacts on the ecosystem and livelihoods. The community believes that a robust disaster management plan must be formulated to combat these challenges and the coastal zone management plans prepared by the state government could be inclusive of the community's needs and visions.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

The Pir Jahania Jungle Suraksha Women’s Committee won the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Community Stewardship’ in 2012.

Contact Bichitrananda Biswal Tel. +91 9437308608 Email: