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Wildlife campaigners are opposing alleged construction of a prawn hatchery near Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam district as they apprehend a threat to annual nesting of Olive Ridley turtles at the rookery.

"The hatchery plan came as a shock," said Biswajit Mohanty of Operation Kachhap, an organization conducting study on the Olive Ridley. Any construction near the river mouth would have a bearing on arrival of turtles at the rookery, he added. Turtles lay eggs on Purunabandh to Kantiagada stretch near the river mouth in February-March every year.

It is the second biggest rookery in the country after Gahirmatha in Kendrapada district. "A private agency has started construction work at Kantiagada, which is close to the river mouth. The hatchery also violates Coastal Regulation Zone rules, which prohibit construction within 500 metre of the shoreline," alleged secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee Rabindra Sahu. The district administration should immediately stop the work, he demanded.

Collector (Ganjam) Prem Chandra Chaudhary said he was not aware of any construction activity near the river mouth. "No entrepreneur has been given permission for a prawn hatchery at Kantiagada to my knowledge," he said.

Chief wildlife warden S S Srivastav said he would look into the matter and take necessary steps to ensure safety of the turtles.

Divisional forest officer (Berhampur) S S Mishra said, "I have asked forest range officer concerned to probe the allegation and its impact on mass nesting of turtles."

Official sources said, a few thousand turtles laid eggs at Rushikulya rookery this year, while they skipped Gahirmatha. The wildlife officers are yet to find the reason for the low turnout. Last year, turtles had laid 2.86 lakh eggs at the river mouth.

Signed,

Jago Bharath Jago

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