Every year around February or March, a strip of beach at the end of Odisha’s central river delta witnesses one of the world’s most extraordinary natural spectacles. Having swum right across the Pacific and Indian oceans, an average of around 200,000 female Olive Ridley marine turtles crawl onto the sand to nest. Almost as soon as the egg laying is complete, they’re off again into the surf to begin the journey back to their mating grounds on the other side of the world.

No one knows quite why they travel such distances, but for local villagers the arrival of the giant turtles has traditionally been something of a boon. Turtle soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and extra cash from market sales. Over the years the annual slaughter began to turn into a green gold rush, and turtle numbers plummeted drastically until the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary on Gahirmatha beach, 130km northeast of Bhubaneswar, was set up in 1975 at the personal behest of Indira Gandhi. Weeks before the big three- or four-day invasion, coastguards monitor the shoreline and armed rangers aim to keep poachers at bay. For wildlife enthusiasts it’s a field day.

In recent years, however, environmental threats have impacted on the turtles’ habitat. Several hundred local families have begun to cultivate land within the sanctuary, water quality has been jeopardized by the growth of illegal prawn farms, and trawlers have been caught illegally fishing in the area without “turtle excluder devices”. The turtles are further menaced by industrial pollution and the construction of a large seaport at Dhamra, 15km from Gahirmatha. Several conservation organizations, including Greenpeace and the WWF, are monitoring the area. In January 2010, the bodies of around one thousand dead turtles (according to official estimates) were found on the beach; although this is horrifyingly high, it was less than half of the figure for the previous year.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

The Himalayan Queen, the Grand Trunk Express, the Deccan Odyssey… the very names of India’s trains are evocative of timeless style and old-school adventure…

09 Feb 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
Quiz: can you name these famous places in India?

Quiz: can you name these famous places in India?

India is an addictive destination. Go once and something will draw you back time and again. Perhaps it's the food, maybe it's the people, or it could well be th…

24 Jan 2017 • Rough Guides Editors help Quiz
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month