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Saving Olive Ridley Turtles & Promoting Sustainable Fishing Practices By Samudram Women’s Federation


Orissa, an east coast state in India, has a 482-kilometer coastline that extends through six districts. The state’s abundant marine resources provide for the livelihoods and wellbeing of local villagers. The coastline is an annual nesting site (arribada) for the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle. Three sites attract mating turtles: Devi Rookery, Rushikulya Rookery and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. To allow for turtle populations to regenerate, the Orissa Government has banned fishing in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary area, and restricted fishing in Rushikulya and Devi Rookery during the peak nesting period from November to May each year. While the resulting conservation dividend is high, this action has severely limited the earning capacity of local fishing communities. Fish stocks are also being depleted in the Bay of Bengal. Large-scale inland extractive activities, based around mining and timber, are also taking also take place in the state.

Samudram Women’s Federation evolved in response to these challenges. Registered in 1995, the Federation has over 5,080 members and 160 women’s self-help groups across 50 villages in Ganjam and the nearby districts of Orissa. The Federation works at the intersection of biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. It creates income-generating activities to empower economically marginalized members, while conserving Olive Ridley Turtle nesting sites. Samudram members monitor and breed turtles, restore their habitats, implement artificial reef construction and promote sustainable fishing practices to increase marine resource diversity. In addition, women members and the wider community benefit from capacity building trainings, access to microfinancing opportunities, and increased income as a result of improved fish yields.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Several steps can be taken to ensure that NBSAP strategies and actions are more gender responsive:

  1. ensuring women’s participation in decision-making and in action;
  2. preventing negative impacts on women;
  3. promoting benefits for women; and
  4. promoting gender equality. Integrating a gender perspective into biodiversity planning supports more efficient and effective implementation of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The goals of mainstreaming gender into NBSAP strategies and actions include to: i) reduce gender inequalities and the vulnerabilities of dependent communities; ii) prevent negative impacts on and promote benefits for women; and iii) maximize the efficiency and sustainability of conservation efforts. This case study showcases how the Samudram Women’s Federation promotes marine conservation, sustainable fishing practices and alternate livelihood opportunities.

Specific elements of components: 

In the State of Orissa, several shallow swimming fish species account for the bulk of small-scale fishing yields. As a reaction to increasing sea surface temperatures, they are migrating at greater depths. This presents a challenge to the local fishers, whose traditional fishing equipment is adapted for shallow fishing. Fish stocks are dwindling as a result, which leads to significantly reduced incomes and chronic indebtedness as sustenance fishers are forced into compromised financial arrangements with local traders and moneylenders. Additionally, the Olive Ridley Turtle is endangered due to nesting beach degradation, direct harvesting, and entanglement in fishing equipment.

The action taken:
Samudram Women’s Federation Management:
The Samudram Women’s Federation employs seven full-time, 11 part-time, and 25 volunteer staff. All employees are local leaders from participating communities. Inclusion and full community participation are guiding principles of the organization’s management. Eleven women are nominated on a rotating basis by the five district level federations. Once elected, their responsibilities include identifying intervention priorities, providing quarterly reviews of Federation progress, organizing annual meetings and assigning responsibilities to self-help groups. Meetings of the self-help groups are held on a monthly basis. They purchase coastal fishing rights at fishing union auctions and are responsible for hosting trainings on fish-drying techniques and market access. A benefit-sharing policy is in place to ensure that all Federation members see the benefits of growth. Click here to learn about the specific actions that were taken to form the Federation:

Use of artificial reefs:
Samudram’s artificial reef project was piloted in five villages. Meetings were held with community members to explain the technology and to outline the potential costs and benefits of the approach. The project proposed (?) concrete mounds to simulate reefs, regenerate coral and restore fish populations. The villages and the Federation reached agreement to use this technology and a benefit-sharing formula was drafted, which included periodic fishing rights for different villages on a rotating basis. The Coastal Marine Fisheries Research Institute created the concrete reef moldings and placed them in the ocean. The artificial reefs established de facto territorial markers for the eco-restoration zones. Bottom-trawlers, which harm the turtle populations, are aware that the artificial reefs are just below the surface. They do not want to risk entangling their nets in the reefs, and thus avoid the traditional fishing areas.

Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods:
The Federation provides trainings and capacity building opportunities to over 6,000 local fisherwomen. Classes focus on the use of sustainable fishing practices, ‘turtle excluding devices’, fish net regulations, and ‘fishing holidays’ and ‘no-take zones’. Trainings include income diversification strategies in animal husbandry (duck, poultry and goats), crab fattening, rice processing, and small-scale business development. Local fisherwomen are provided warehouses and refrigerated storage facilities for their fish products. This improves collective bargaining power, removes some of the urgency that middlemen exploit and offers a quality control center.

The Federation also navigates collective trade negotiations, and fair and equitable market access for its members. It provides value-added secondary processing trainings in hygienic fish-drying methods, pickling and ‘papad’ production. Samudram also teaches community members about cultivating seaweed for processing into ‘agar-agar’, a natural vegetable gelatin, and other bio-nutrients, which are sold to augment local incomes. Additionally, it facilitates access to new markets for fisherwomen as a priority activity, and conducts weekly Olive Ridley Turtle counts for mature turtles and for eggs. Community members are trained in turtle monitoring techniques. Turtle and egg counts are published in a journal run by the Federation.

Policy and Advocacy:
The Federation is vocal in protesting three general policies: ( ) repeated attempts to replace the ‘coastal regulation zone notification’ with the ‘coastal management zone act’; (2) establishing large-scale and heavy-polluting industries under the category of “special economic zones”; and ( ) legislating policies that result in the displacement of traditional coastal fisherwomen. Samudram objects to large-scale mechanization of the fishing sector, which it believes would harm coastal ecosystems and the livelihoods of traditional fishers. The Federation also works with governments to create awareness about the importance of building traditional fisherwomen capacity and promoting ecologically friendly and non-destructive fishing equipment. Samudram also calls for less stringent, and ultimately more inclusive, certification requirements, as local fisherwomen often find it prohibitively difficult to obtain licenses or to legally register community enterprises. Last, Samudram works to raise awareness about climate change and its implications for local fishers.

Key lessons learned: 

The keys to sustainability, as identified by the Federation, are:

  • Continued and enhanced access to fishing grounds
  • Increased market access
  • An understanding of value-added potential, market studies, and feasibility studies
  • Improved availability of state permits, credit, insurance, and certification
  • A favorable policy environment for micro-enterprise development
  • Access to basic services such as electricity, drinking water, housing, and healthcare
  • Continued financial support from NGOs
  • A balance of local autonomy with supportive government policies
  • Investing a portion of profit into biodiversity conservation and restoration activities, as marine resources need a period of regeneration
  • Recognizing artificial reef development is a valuable option to other coastal communities who face widespread coral bleaching and loss of coral cover
  • Legally recognizing the artificial reef zone as a Biodiversity Heritage Site, which will expand eco-tourism prospects and create an additional local revenue stream
  • Legally registering the Federation as a multi-purpose cooperative, which allows the Federation to solicit investments from banks, venture capitalists, donors, and the private sector
Impacts and outcomes: 


Successful Conservation Campaigns:

  • Protected three Olive Ridley Turtle nesting sites
  • Reduced industrial pollution from aquaculture ponds
  • Halted the incursion of bottom-trawlers into traditional fishing areas
  • Helped to resist an ‘ill-conceived and short-sighted’ national government policy to create a coastal management zone that would open the door to industrial development along the ecologically fragile coast Increased the Olive Ridley Turtle Population:
  • Conservation actions resulted in a greater than 15 percent increase in the Olive Ridley Turtle population. Fish breeding and spawning sites have been protected and there has been a noticeable increase in wider marine biodiversity, with the appearance of mollusks, crabs, and other species.
  • The artificial reef project had a number of biodiversity benefits, including the unintended but welcome emergence of de facto marine sanctuaries. The concrete reef moldings serve as a deterrent to bottom-trawlers, who overfish and damage the ecosystem.
  • At a pilot site in Pulicat, over 140 marine species have been observed in an area that was effectively barren before the project.


  • The project benefits over 6,000 fisherwomen and their families.
  • The annual income of Samudram member families increased from USD 458 in 2004 to USD 967 in 2009.
  • More than fifty jobs in processing, packaging, and marketing have been created through value-added secondary processing activities.
  • Fishing productivity increased by 300 percent between 2007 and 2010.
  • The Federation launched nine fish procurement and processing centres, all of which are owned and operated by local women. The centers offer refrigeration and drying racks for fresh fish, tarpaulin sheets for sanitation, electronic weighing machines, and packaging and storage equipment.
  • Through the Federation, local fisherwomen have gained access to collective savings opportunities, credit services and insurance coverage.
  • Animal husbandry (duck rearing, poultry, and crab fattening), seaweed production, rice processing and small- scale businesses have been introduced to supplement local incomes, particularly during fishing bans and restriction periods.
  • Value-added secondary processing, through training in hygienic fish-drying methods, pickling, and producing ‘papad’, has resulted in an up to 45 percent increase in the product price acquired by fisherwomen. The overall increase in income is between 25 and 30 percent. Improved social wellbeing and empowerment:
  • The Federation provides access to health, education, water, electricity and housing to all its members and their families.
  • Member communities see a higher attendance rate in schools and have a goal of total literacy among the member population.
  • Plans are underway to construct a community hospital to provide needed medical help to the geographically isolated region.
  • The majority of Federation members belong to a lower caste and suffer social exclusion and persecution. Samudram works to change attitudes towards this population, and offers trainings and exchanges between the fisherwomen, other community leaders, bankers and elected officials.
  • With collective bargaining and a higher premium for their products, Federation members have gained dignity and confidence and are increasingly attaining higher positions in community decision-making processes.


  • Samudram has successfully petitioned for: - Issuance of a notification banning destructive fishing nets; - Creation of a budgetary provision for the establishment of an Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act, which monitors bottom-trawlers in territorial waters; - Provision of state government compensation to fisherwomen cooperatives in the wet season; - Inclusion of women as potential beneficiaries of social security programs for fishing sector workers; - Improvements in credit access, insurance, and the provision of basic services like drinking water, sanitation, housing and electricity (This action is particularly important for refugees resettled to the coast from other state development projects, but who were given no land title, water access, ration cards, or non-fishing season compensation).
  • Through the Orissa Marine Resources Conservation Consortium, Samudram provided inputs into India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2004-2005, including legal provisions on the establishment of community conserved areas and the establishment of environmental and cultural heritage sites.
Contact details: 
Samudram I Mrs. B. Chittiama ( Advisor) & Mrs. Parvati, (Sec), Email:
NBSAP step: 
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