Turtles, Arribadas, Science, Policy and Implementation

turtle Read stuff like this (hat tip to my mom for telling me about this report she’d seen on TV in Madras), and you begin to doubt your utility as a scientist.
IBNLive : Orissa turtles neck-deep in danger

Nearly 3,000 Olive Ridley turtles have died off the Orissa coast this season. Beaches have become turtle graveyards.

Orissa is one of the three places in the world where the Olive Ridleys come for their annual mass nesting.

Mechanised trawlers are the biggest culprits for this slaughter. When the trawlers go to the sea, turtles are trapped in their fishing nets. The turtles are unable to disentangle themselves and suffocate to death.

See the video report too. In her own breathlessly indignant style, the reporter explains the science behind turtle excluder devices (well known and established), the regulation expressely forbidding shrimp trawling close to the coast, especially during the arribada, the money set aside in the budget to purchase a few speed boats for the coast guard, who are well aware of the problem, so wot’s, uh, the deal?

The investigative reports contradict each other, the first one linked said there was no patrolling, the second one gushingly praises the coast guard for vigorous enforcement and patrolling, so which is it? I need to find out, call on some old friends… But clearly, there are issues if net catch mortality is on the rise.

The three pillars of any regulatory action are the science, the policy, and the implementation. The science here is very clear (though the US administration seems to not think so any more?), shrimp nets with turtle excluder devices cause decrease in mortality. The policy is clear, use these nets when shrimp fishing, and completely ban fishing activity during the arribada (the number of turtles in an arribada, 50000 in a night and perhaps 300000-400000 over the course of a week is staggeringly large, so, shrimp net or not, you’ll kill a lot of turtles just by being there).

So, like anything else in India, where is the implementation? The people running the trawlers know they are illegal anyway, so they don’t bother with the TEDs. The owners of the trawling boats never face the consequences, only the poor hapless fishermen running the boats. No attempt is made to coopt the people being regulated, it is a top down “we tell you what to do” kind of situation where the law is selectively enforced, no explanations are given, the regulation may just be an excuse to get some kickbacks. The fishermen see the excluder device as an inconvenience as they are not shown how to use it. Some low level bureaucrat in charge of buying high speed boats for the state’s forest service either does not realize the importance of getting this policy on the road, or is on the take. You can pick any, or all of these reasons and you’ll see why just like most other things in India, the road to hell is paved with good intentions 🙁

Why be a scientist and come up with cool new techniques to do things when you don’t pay equal attention to the implementation of techniques invented 20 years back? As a responsible scientist, I must look at policy and implentation with as much interest and passion as I look at the science – New career paths?

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