CANACONA: Canacona’s twin turtle nesting site may be bustling with as many as 42 Olive Ridley Nests at the Agonda (32) and Galgibaga (10) Turtle Rehabilitation Centres (TRC), but the Forest Departments shifting of the Agonda Nursery site at new location without conducting a site-inspection, has come under scrutiny/crossfire with locals alleging forest department has succumbed to the whims of shacks operators in the coastal village (Agonda) of Canacona.
The experts team led by Forest Department’s Project officer Nester Fernandes alongwith Marine Range (South) RFO Rajesh Naik conducted an on-site inspection of the Nursery Site of the Agonda Turtle Rehabilitation Centre(TRC), which is on the shore behind the Agonda Church and School premises, where presently 31 out of 32 Turtle-Pits (Agonda TRC) are protected at the Nursery by Forest Department engaged Rescuers and Watch-Keepers. A lone Turtle pit is at the original TRC site at Divanbhag area of Agonda beach coast.
The TRC with Turtle Nursery has been a thorn and often a borne of contention and reason for the tussle between the Shack operators – Forest (Wildlife) Department. The shacks/restaurants, which have newly (in recent years) come-up just on the shoreline of Turtle Rehabilitation Centre at Divanbhag area of Agonda coastline were operating in conflict of interest with the Turtle Nursery. Forest department has often reprimanded and issued guidelines on limitations of Tourism activities, strictly restricting the quantum of Lightings and playing of loud Music around the area having dozens of Turtle pits, particularly after sunset and into late nights.
According to locals, Forest department engaged shifted a set of 150 eggs found laid on Agonda beach into a pit at the original Nesting site at Divanbhag area on 16th November last year, and somewhere in the end of the same Forest department suspiciously erected a makeshift shed just behind the Agonda church and School, (where the shore is badly destroyed due to heavy sand-erosion , an activity taking place every year the rampaging and destroying the shoreline), and later declared as Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (TRC) of Agonda. Even as locals were wondering, why the turtle nursery is being shifted from the safe and sound site at Divanbhag, forest department went on to set-up another batch of 103 eggs on 30th Dec’2023 the new TRC site and thereafter continued to use and made the new TRC site as Turtle Nursery Site.The angry locals, when questioned, learnt that because of objections raised by some shack operators in Divanbhag area, the turtle nursery is shifted to a site, which is not at-all suitable for turtle nesting as the area is very prone to frequent sand-erosion and destructions.
Locals than through Agonda church body wrote to the Goa Forest Department, even as Agonda Panchayat seized of the matter passed a resolution and submitted the same to the Forest Department to shift back the Agonda TRC with its Turtle Nursery to the original site, which Forest department operated shuffling within few metres either way of Divanbhag area for decades since its inception.
Forest department however, denied that the TRC is shifted from the original place due to pressure from Shacks lobby, but agreed it is shifted as per higher authorities orders, and moreover, shifting of the nursery after certain years helps in tackling the mortality rate of the olive ridley eggs’, informed Rajesh Naik. Forest department(Wildlife) sources however, agreed that the new site was chosen without conducting proper examination, but observing no tourism activities exists towards the private land side.
On Wednesday, Forest Department’s (Wildlife) South Marine Range incharge RFO Rajesh Naik, Project Officer Nester Fernandes along with other experts conducted the inspection and examined the new site, which is just behind the Agonda Church and School premises. Interestingly, the Forest Department is guarding 31 out of the 32 Turtle Nests of Agonda TRC at this new site, which according to locals is set-up without any inspection or conduct of any study/examination of the areas suitability for the sensitive project. Locals aware of the nature’s past behaviour and its impact and the visible sand-dunes destruction at the site makes the new Nesting Site as most unsuitable and accordingly explained the forest officers and the expert team.
‘The thousands of eggs of the endangered sea species (Olive Ridley turtle) which are now protected at the new Turtle Nesting Site are itself endangered, and possibility of the entire set of Pits (31) could be washed away if any sea-rampage takes place anytime due to the change in sea-behaviour and weather conditions. The safety of the site is always under extreme threat of natural calamity, and the most prone to sand–erosion on the entire 2.9 kms coastline of Agonda beach.’, informed Franky Fernandes.
‘Moreover, the forest department’s un-announced decision taken without inspecting the area, has stemmed up from the demands of Shacks mafia lobby, ‘informed one resident to the forest officers.