Published On: Wed, Jun 15th, 2016

World Sea Turtle Day : ‘Community support is needed for the conservation of endangered sea turtles’

Leatherback turtle being release in sea. Photo Courtesy WWF-Pakistan

Leatherback turtle being release in sea. Photo Courtesy WWF-Pakistan

Staff Report
KARACHI: On the occasion of World Sea Turtle Day which is being celebrated on 16 June 2016, WWF-Pakistan stressed the need for conservation of sea turtles which are facing serious threats due to multiple anthropogenic factors in Pakistan. ‘Protection of sea turtles cannot be done alone by government agencies and NGOs but it requires support and contribution of all members of communities including fishermen, residents of coastal areas and general public’, said a press release.

WWF-Pakistan since its inception in 1970 has been engaged in protection of sea turtles in Pakistan. It has played a key role in control of sea turtle exports which was flourishing in 1970’s along Sindh and Balochistan coast. WWF-Pakistan has also provided funds for initiation of turtle nests protection in Sandspit area in Karachi and later on Daran (Jiwani) along Balochistan coast. Protection of turtle nests and safe release of turtles mainly carried out by Sindh Wildlife Department is considered to be a great success. To date, the Department has protected 2.42 million eggs, released 6.72 million hatchlings and tagged more than 8,000 adult turtles. WWF-Pakistan has sponsored a project in Jiwani through which more than 1000 nests were protected and about 25,000 hatchlings were released in the sea. These activities has resulted in conservation of green turtles in Pakistan.

Five species of sea turtles were known from Pakistan based on records mentioned scientific literature. However, two species including green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) were known to be visiting beaches and laying their eggs. Another species leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was recorded from three dead specimens. Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) were observed to be rarest sea turtles found in Pakistan. Through the efforts of WWF-Pakistan, live specimens of all five species have been collected.

Turtle need extra care: Photo by WWF-Pakistan

Turtle need extra care: Photo by WWF-Pakistan

One of the major cause of the mortality of sea turtles in Pakistan is attributed to their entanglement in fishing gears. Most of these turtles are found to get entangled in gillnets both in coastal and offshore waters. Studies carried out by WWF-Pakistan have revealed that almost no entanglement or mortality occurs in trawl, longline, seine and fixed fishing gear whereas hundreds of turtles get entangled in gillnets annually. In order to reduce mortality of turtles, WWF-Pakistan has started a awareness programme through which 50 fishermen have been trained to safely release sea turtles, if observed to be entangled in their gillnets. Since the start of this programme in 2013, so far about 30,000 sea turtles have been safely released. This has resulted in a major impact on the population of sea turtles in Pakistani waters.

Rare hawksbill turtle released by fishermen. Photo by WWF-Pakistan

Rare hawksbill turtle released by fishermen. Photo by WWF-Pakistan

Green turtles is most common species found along the coast of Pakistan and females of this species visit sandy beaches along Pakistan coast including Sandspit, Hawksbay, Cape Monz, Sonmiani, Ormara, Astola Island, Daran and Jiwani. Olive ridely turtles used to frequently visit Pakistani beaches as well but no nesting of olive ridely was reported from Pakistan during last 13 years. WWF-Pakistan, however, located a huge population of this species in the offshore waters of Pakistan. It is estimated that the population of olive ridely turtle is almost 6 times higher than that of green turtles. WWF-Pakistan has planned to install satellite tracking for these turtles to determine their migration and nesting grounds, as currently they are no more visiting Pakistan coast for nesting.

WWF-Pakistan is also undertaking a number other steps including beach cleaning, safe release of hatchlings and turtle watch programmes for the protection and conservation of sea turtles in Pakistan. This is addition to mass scale awareness programme for students and general public that is being regularly run by WWF-Pakistan.

Rab Nawaz, Senior Director-Biodiversity, WWF-Pakistan stressed the need for collaborative efforts for the conservation of the threatened sea turtle species. He warned that one species of sea turtle i.e. olive ridley turtles has already vanished from Pakistan coast and other may follow, unless concerted efforts for the conservation are made. He stressed the need for reducing solid waste pollution, beach littering, light pollution and construction on the nesting beaches.

While, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor, Marine Fisheries, WWF-Pakistan emphasized on the need for mass scale awareness about sea turtles especially amongst fishermen so as to minimize interaction of sea turtles with fishing gears. He pointed out that WWF-Pakistan has already translated Turtle Identification Guide in Urdu for fishermen and general public with the aim to conserve these threatened marine animals. ‘WWF-Pakistan welcomes Government of Sindh’s recent amendment in fisheries legislation through which a ban is imposed on killing, catching and possession of inter alia of marine and freshwater turtles, as it will further strengthen conservation measures in place for sea turtles.’ he added.

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