Conservation amidst development in a nonequilibrium environment: A study of marine turtles in Odisha, India

@ATREE auditorium at 11.00 am on 26th April 2018

Abstract

Protectionism is a form of conservation governance that promotes the creation of Protected Areas i.e. a socio-spatial arrangement to separate nature (wildlife) and society (humans) into distinct compartments. It is particularly controversial and challenging to implement in the marine realm because here, wildlife are usually highly mobile species that cannot be contained in fixed spaces. Moreover, their distribution overlaps with that of fisheries, so attempts to ban humans from such areas have met with fierce resistance from fishing communities. Yet, advocacy for ‘no-take’ Marine Protected Areas continues to grow.

My study focused on the conservation of olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) in Odisha, because this is a globally significant conservation area. At the same time, it is an inhabited, topographically dynamic region that is rapidly industrialising. Therefore it exemplifies the complexities of conservation practice. I took a political ecology approach to understand how conservation power is exercised to protect mobile wildlife in production landscapes. I problematized turtle protectionism in Odisha as an ongoing project of green governmentality that is based on an equilibrial view of nature. The main questions I addressed were (a) how were olive ridleys made into conservation objects? (b) how and why were different forms of spatial enclosures created? and (c) what forms of resistance has the project encountered and how does it persist? I used multi-sited ethnography and discourse analysis to trace the circuits of power, as well as the discursive and material struggles that accompany this project.

In this study, I argue that not only human actors but also the ridleys’ own ecological traits have significantly challenged key protectionist practices and continue to subvert attempts to spatially separate conservation and production landscapes. Therefore I suggest that paying greater attention to ecological specificity can provide important insights into how power is wielded (and resisted) by different actors to achieve a particular economic and ecological ordering of the landscape.