Ensuring the conservation of Olive Ridley turtles: a case study of how development and conservation can co-exist

Published: 24 December 2019
Last edited: 24 December 2019
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The story of Dhamra Port is the story of a major corporation and a global environmental organization working together to ensure that the construction of a large deep-sea industrial port in India would not harm a significant population of endangered sea turtles. From a development perspective, the site was perfect. However, from a conservation perspective there were questions about its location close to one of the world’s largest nesting site of the Olive Ridley turtle, protected under Indian law. The collaboration between DPCL-Dhamra Port Company Limited (then a joint venture between Tata Steel and L&T) and IUCN shows that development and conservation can co-exist, and that there are ways to develop in a responsible manner that meets both the needs of people and the needs of nature. Lessons learned from this partnership can be applied to other projects that will have similar positive outcomes for people and for nature.


South Asia
Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Buildings and facilities
Connective infrastructure, networks and corridors
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Cities and infrastructure
Coastal and marine spatial management
Outreach & communications
Protected area governance
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable financing
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company


Bhadrak, Odisha, India


The major challenge to this project was ensuring the success and continuity of safeguards to protect turtles from being severely impacted by port construction and ensuing long-term port activities. However, there were other challenges related to the desired behavior change. These included:

  • Resistance of concerned actors to the project; and
  • Reputational risk for key stakeholders.

In terms of ensuring the protection of Olive Ridley populations in the long-term, enhancing community awareness about the importance of turtles was also important, including changing community fishing practices that contributed to turtle mortality.


  • DPCL
  • Tata Steel
  • IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
  • Fishers and local communities
  • Olive Ridley Turtle population

How do the building blocks interact?

Through the three project building blocks, a holistic solution toward the challenge of balancing development with conservation was reached. While each block addressed a different aspect of the project, the combination of all these helped to consolidate mutual trust and collaboration among the stakeholders and actors, enabling engagement, dialogue and understanding for both the short term outcome and for long-term sustainability.


As a result of the partnership and with assistance from IUCN, DPCL drafted an Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The EMP addresses regulations, policy, planning, implementation, operations and management as well as quality assurance and monitoring. It details the procedures needed for change management, and the development of a corporate culture that prioritizes safety, environmental protection and the promotion of positive community relations.


To fund ongoing research and intervention, a trust, proposed by IUCN, is being established to support long-term conservation in the area. DCPL and IUCN have now initiated the process of establishing the “Dhamra Conservation Trust”. The Trust will focus on turtle conservation along the coastline of Odisha; improving the quality of life through alternative livelihoods; promoting opportunities for women; and empowering villagers.


On the broader scale, the project has led to a deeper understanding among private, public and civil society actors that much can be done to address both development and environment at the same time, in a sustainable manner, using good science. The outcomes of the project are changing perceptions not just on the business side on environmental sustainability, but also on the side of environmental organizations about the role they can play in enabling similar breakthroughs in sustainable business practices.



The story of the Dhamra Port is a story of misunderstandings, technical difficulties and conflict. But it is also a story of determined individuals, enlightened companies, innovative approaches and mutual benefit. In the end, it resulted in a happy ending for Olive Ridley turtles and the people of Odisha.

Many environmental organizations in India opposed the development of the port. Tata Steel sought to assess whether the infrastructure could be built without harming the turtles, so they asked IUCN for advice.


IUCN brought in its global experts on sea turtles who worked with the company to implement mitigation measures. The environmental community and NGO members within IUCN were critical of the organization’s involvement. They wondered whether the port could be built without harming this population of a vulnerable species.

International evidence showed that it was possible for ports and turtles to coexist, if standard operating procedures were followed. By mobilizing its international network of experts, IUCN could bring objective science and commitment to conservation, to the table.


In spite of the IUCN Council approved Business and Biodiversity Strategy mandating work with “large footprint” industries, some IUCN Members felt that IUCN shouldn’t engage with certain fossil fuel-heavy industries. Others argued that, when accounting for the potential to influence a large-scale development project and mitigate impact on a species, compromises were worth it.


Based on global best practices, the international science community supported this position, and concluded that environmental damage could be mitigated. IUCN remained a neutral partner in the project, using science for an optimal outcome. For IUCN, the project was an important learning opportunity around engaging with business to provide the best results for nature and local communities.

The two organizations worked together through many challenges to show that development and conservation can co-exist, and that there are ways to develop in a responsible manner that meets the needs of people and nature, simultaneously. The established trust between Tata Group and IUCN led to other forms of engagement, proving that biodiversity protection can be a core principle of a large-footprint industry.

Contributed by

Ann Moey