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Olive Ridley, courtesy of Bernard Gagnon

As many of you know, WILD has a long history of involvement with the special Olive Ridley sea turtles. These turtles are currently known to nest en-mass in only three locations world-wide, one of which is Gaharimatha National Park, just south of the Dhamra River where the Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL) has begun to build a mega-port. The environmental and social issues and implications of this port are numerous and serious.

A new twist is unraveling in the Dhamra port project – the involvement of the International Union of the Conservation of Nature — not in opposing the port, but engaging with DPCL in a controversial manner.

This week, we were alerted of a letter sent to IUCN (following the official grievance policy) voicing unresolved and unaddressed concerns from stakeholders and specialists in India to IUCN staff. The letter expresses serious concerns regarding the nature of IUCN’s involvement in Orissa and is backed by leading specialists and IUCN members from India. Their main concerns are:

  1. Lack of scientific approach – no comprehensive environmental impact analysis has been completed for the port project.
  2. Concern that IUCN has not considered several critical environmental issues including invasive species carried in ballast water; impacts on Bhitarkanika National Park (Ramsar site, soon to be declared World Heritage site); impacts on Gahirmatha National Park, where the Olive Ridley’s nest; and others.
  3. Concern that IUCN has not considered critical social issues; no socio-economic or socio-cultural studies of communities at the construction site have been completed.
  4. Lack of holistic, integrated, comprehensive environmental and social approach. There is more going on in Dhamra than just the port expansion. Associated industries such as a ship-building yard, a steel plant and a port-based fertilizer plant are being planned at the same site. The cumulative environmental and social effects should be considered ‘with a wide-angle lense.’ “There has been no serious engagement by IUCN on the issue of unplanned coastal development and its consequences for marine biodiversity and marginalized coastal dwellers who depend directly on living marine resources and access to coastal areas.”
  5. IUCN is involved despite recommendations and concerns of local organizations including the Wildlife Protection Society of India, the Bombay Natural History Society, World Wildlife Fund-India and local members of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) of the IUCN.
  6. No genuine stakeholder meetings on the Dhamra project have been conducted by IUCN/MTSG. “Such lack of consultation squanders unique and considerable local expertise, besides sidelining local members.” The one meeting held by the IUCN was far from participatory, as many stakeholders, local organizations and IUCN members were not invited.
  7. IUCN has not followed its “Operational Guidelines for Private Sector Engagement”

Olive Ridley turtles, in Mexico

Actions by the IUCN go against their guidelines, best practices and the mission: The IUCN Mission Statement “is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.”

The many concerns close with a bold statement: “It appears that the IUCN-DPCL agreement is driven by corporate concerns rather than environmental ones which has lowered the credibility of the IUCN in India and around the world.”

Signers on the document then list multiple actions suggested for the IUCN with regard to the Orissa port project and encourage a meaningful response to their concerns. Signers include leading specialists in India and members of IUCN, such as Belinda Wright (Wildlife Protection Society of India), Ashish Fernandes (Greenpeace), Jack Frazier (Smithsonian Institution), Biswajit Mohanty (Wildlife Society of Orissa), Bittu Sahgal (Sanctuary Asia) and many others. Download the full document >

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