The Dhamra Port project was controversial from its very inception. It met with opposition at all levels of science and conservation, but also garnered the support of the International union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Acting in his (then) capacity as Co-Chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, MRF’s Executive Director Dr. Nicolas Pilcher was heavily involved in the project implementation.
IUCN and The Dhamra Port Company Limited (DPCL), a joint venture of Tata Steel and Larsen & Toubro, entered into an agreement to work to save sea turtles in Dhamra as an encouraging step forward in promoting corporate environmental responsibility. This had great importance given the proximity of the port in relation to one of the world’s most important mass-nesting beaches for olive ridley turtles. IUCN believed that engaging with DPCL, in an effort to integrate the highest of environmental standards into the port development and operations, was an exemplary model of contemporary conservation in action.
The aims of the agreement were to avoid, minimize and mitigate the impacts of Dhamra Port development on turtles and compensating or off-setting any residual impact that cannot be avoided or reasonably mitigated. The agreement also aimed at improving the project’s performance in other aspects of environment, e.g. terrestrial environment as affected by the access roads, railway lines and other secondary developments, and to contribute to raising national and global standards for environmentally responsible development of mega projects.
These options were developed through the results of an immediate-needs assessment carried out by IUCN and DPCL officials in December 2006. MRF was subsequently involved in all phases of the project, guiding and supervising dredging operations, lighting design and installation and commissioning, and in the development of a gold-standard environmental management plan.
Working with IUCN, MRF helped organise an evaluation of past, ongoing and future research needs, particularly including consultations with concerned stakeholder groups and individuals, and reviewed and analysed original studies and reports, including the original EIA report, in an effort to fill the information gaps using the best science and technology applicable to the site. The project also carried out consultations with relevant stakeholders to present both DPCL’s plan and objectives and environmental commitments, scope out the contents of the environmental management plan and prepare an annotated table of contents for further elaborating and establishing the management plan in the follow up phase.
The project relied on IUCN’s network of scientists and conservationists, each with decades of professional background, to meet its commitment under this agreement. Specifically, this included drawing on the expertise of members from its Marine Turtle Specialist Group, a volunteer network of over 250 experts around the globe nested within the Species Survival Commission, and its India IUCN members, a suite of government and non-governmental agencies, committed to the broader environmental conservation mandate of IUCN.
This agreement is now a benchmark upon which other industry-conservation alliances can be based, given its commitment to conserve the Olive Ridley turtles nesting along the Orissa coast while meeting the development goals and needs of people of India.
The work on this project was funded via a cost-reimbursement basis agreement between Dhamra Port Ltd and IUCN.