With a 53% increase in eggs, these turtles just broke a 4-year record — thanks to conservation efforts in Bangladesh

A baby olive ridley turtle walking on wet sand
  • Bangladesh has seen the highest number of olive ridley turtle eggs this year, a conservationist group says.
  • The olive ridley’s main nesting ground is different islands of the country’s southeastern district, Cox’s Bazar, in the Bay of Bengal.
  • The key reasons behind the success are extensive conservation action across beaches and an awareness program among local people.
  • Conservationists say they believe success might decline if the current pace of tourism and related infrastructure development is not checked, as they appear to disturb ecosystems.

This year, Bangladesh has seen its highest number of olive ridley turtle eggs, thanks to extensive conservation actions, including building awareness among local people and the vigilance of local conservation groups to ensure favorable conditions for the species.

Nature Conservation Management (NACOM) found 12,425 eggs in five turtle hatcheries — Pachar Island, Shilkali Island, Shahpari Island, Matharbunia, and Shonadia Island in Cox’s Bazar district — through April 17 this year.

The number of eggs has increased by almost 53% compared with the previous year, from 8,096 to 12,425. Those tallies represent a significant jump from the 4,713 eggs recorded in 2020-2021 and 5,763 in 2022-23.

Baby turtles born from the eggs in the hatchery.
Baby turtles born from the eggs in the hatchery. Image courtesy of NACOM.

Of the seven turtle species living in seas, five species are found in Bangladesh’s territorial waters: the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelys imbricata).

Three species of sea turtles — olive ridley, green and hawksbill — come to the coast of Bangladesh to lay their eggs. Green turtles and hawksbills are rare.

The olive ridley is listed as an endangered turtle on the IUCN Red List. Olive ridley turtles usually hatch from November to April. At this time, in the dark of night, the mother turtle comes to the house (nesting ground) made in the sand on the beach and returns to the sea with eggs.

How the development works

Comprehensive conservation action across the beach is a key reason behind the success, among many others. As part of the conservation efforts, several organizations are working with volunteers to care for the hatchery, said Munjurul Hannan Khan, executive director of NACOM.

He added that a second factor in the success is building awareness among local populations on the importance of ensuring a safe environment for the female to lay her eggs.

Some of the eggs laid by olive ridley turtles this year
Some of the eggs laid by olive ridley turtles this year. Image courtesy of NACOM.

To explain the process of increasing the turtle population, he added, “We first discovered the problems and found a way out to protect the species.”

“Awareness is the key thing among the local people. We are constantly trying to build awareness among the local people and the fishers. We told them that if they kill turtles, they get fewer fish. Because turtles play a big role in the ecosystem, they clear up the underwater dirt by eating them. Thus, the fish have more chances to breed. So if you kill the turtle, you will get fewer fish.”

“Secondly, we alert them about the existing law about wildlife. Sometimes, smugglers tend to sell them, and also the local people kill them when they come into the seashore. We also alert the fishermen to free the turtles if caught in the net while fishing. Otherwise, they all have to face the fine and other issues by the law enforcement agency.”

Meanwhile, the government has initiated several actions to create a safe environment for turtles, including setting up conservation centers.

The government has set up five conservation centers in Cox’s Bazar for breeding turtles, where hatchlings are artificially hatched. A nesting ground is made on the beach sand to release the eggs, which may cause a rise in the number of turtles coming to the beach and laying eggs safely, said Sarwar Alam, divisional forest officer of Cox’s Bazar South Forest Division.

Rampant development activities appear as threats

According to the 2015 fifth national report on Bangladesh biodiversity, turtle nesting grounds on beaches are destroyed due to development activities and increased tourist traffic. In addition, turtles die after being trapped in commercial fishing nets in the sea. Otherwise, the number of turtles and their eggs would be higher.

An olive ridley turtle on the beach laying eggs.
An olive ridley turtle on the beach laying eggs. Image courtesy of NACOM.

Mohammad Russell, former program officer of Bangladesh Marine Life Alliance, said that fishing with large nets is prohibited within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of St. Martin’s Beach during the sea turtle breeding season. However, fishers often do not follow this rule.

“The green turtle can stay under the sea for a maximum of five hours, and the olive ridley is about the same. Then, they have to climb up to breathe. Turtles stay close to the coast when they lay their eggs. But if caught in fishing nets, they die underwater for a long time,” he said.

The conservationist said that due to the lights of hotels and motels built very close to the beach and the noise of tourists, the arrival of turtles on the beach has decreased at night. Some female turtles have come to the beach and returned to the sea without leaving eggs.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh government signed several international or regional agreements, conventions, treaties and protocols related to the marine environment and biological resources that directly or indirectly affect marine turtles.

In 2016, the Department of Environment took a project called “Environmental Management for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Saint Martin Island” in the country’s only coral island, St. Martin, to preserve sea turtles.

The tourism industry was already intensely pressing beaches for development. Some NGOs and government projects were working on conservation in some areas, but it was not enough, and the government had competing sectors, such as tourism and infrastructure development, that threatened nesting turtle populations.

baby turtles move to the sea when released
The baby turtles move to the sea when released. Image courtesy of NACOM.

Alam said, “There is no substitute for public awareness to prevent disruption of sea turtle breeding. Besides, everyone should come forward to control the movement of people in the breeding spots and protect them from dogs and foxes.”

He also said, “Bangladesh authority is working on this and planning how to extend the conservation action. Teknaf Beach area is one of them where olive turtles are coming, so we are working on that area.”

This article was originally published by Mongabay.

Header image by Rhett Butler

Article Details

May 16, 2024 1:15 PM
A giant pangolin in desert sand. It is a massive scaly creature with a long tail, claws, and a slender snout.

Endangered 'walking pinecone' mammal spotted after 24 year absence

Conservationists thought that this massive, scaly creature was gone altogether in this West African country, until it was spotted on their trail cameras for the first time since 1999.
A wild Przewalski’s horse -- tan with a black mane and tail -- stands on a plain, with a sunrise behind them painting the sky pink and blue and white.

These endangered horses traveled 3,000 miles to their new home — and it could mean survival for their species

These endangered horses traveled 3,000 miles to a nature preserve in their native homeland, where conservations are saving the species through rewilding efforts.
No items found.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.