ENVIRONMENT

 

TURTLES TRAP

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Over 35,000 hatchlings of Green Turtle rescued since September 2004

 

By ASHRAF KHAN
May 16 - 22, 2005
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When the Greek-registered Tasman Spirit ran aground on July 27, 2003 off the Karachi coast, no one was aware of a saga that had to take place in the coming days. A full-scale damage came on August 14 when it split into two causing unprecedented ecological devastation in the history of Pakistan by spilling over 37,000 tonnes of Iranian light crude of total 67,000 tonnes in its tankers.

While billions of rupees monetary losses are still pending for international arbitration, it caused some irreparable losses as well when the spilled oil killed three Olive Ridley Turtles and four Green Turtles, the two rarest species of Chelonia group.

This great but one time loss may not reoccur in future but fatality still pose serious threat to these two species. This man-made threat crops out of mushroom growth of commercial huts along the Sandpit and Hawksbay beaches, which ever rising real estate value allures contractors to build more and more huts on the shore of Arabian coast regardless to environmental concerns.

Green Turtle is found in the three tropical oceans. It may weigh upto 200 kilograms and have a shell almost 130 cm long. Marine turtles are a species of special concern and are included in the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) strategic plan. Globally there are eight species of marine turtles and are all classified as endangered. Green Turtle are the species of marine turtles that nest along the Sandpit and Hawksbay beaches at Karachi coast.

These species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species, Pakistan is signatory of this convention.

METING

Turtle mates in the water, with the male hugging the females using special claws. These turtles come on land and they only come to lay their eggs. Female waits for darkness to come to the shore. At this stage, which is known as stranding, she is very easily disturbed and any noise or light sends her away. When a safe spot above the high tide watermark is reached, the turtle begins to dig a body pit using her front flippers only. As the pit becomes bigger, she will begin to use her back flippers as well. Once the body pit has been dug, the hind flippers begin to dig a flask-shaped nest activity. This activity is as deep as the length of the hind flipper and the turtle lays 80-120 eggs in it. After she finishes laying eggs, the turtle covers the nest cavity and the body pit with lots of sand so that it is quite difficult to trace where the eggs where actually laid.

The baby turtle hatch in 40 to 60 days and their first problem is to get to the surface without help neither of the parents is there to help them.

Having surfaced, the hatchlings face more enemies than they will ever face again. Crabs, birds and dogs all feed on hatchling and many are killed as they crawl down to the sea.

 

 

RESCUE

The WWF Pakistan in collaboration with Sindh Wildlife Department has been involved monitoring turtle population and rescuing stranded hatchlings since 2000 after realization of increasing threats.

The efforts of the WWF are paying but unabated threats call for greater civic involvement.

"We rescued over 35,000 hatchlings of Green Turtle since September 2004 to last month as compared to 13,000 hatchlings in 2003," said Babar Hussain, conservation officer WWF, at the centre amid the wetland near the Sandpit beach set up to rescue the endangered specie. Natural dangers like crabs, crow and seagull, may remain an imminent threat to the Green turtle breeding process but the miles long row of cemented huts, which have been constructed along the two beaches is the most pathetic phenomenon.

Construction of these huts involves ruthless dredging of sand ahead of the huts, which creates pits hindering smooth landing of female turtles who sails through the waters to reach the upper portion of the beach by using her front flippers.

"These pits disallow turtles entry onto the beaches," Babar said expressing his concern.

Not only the pits but elevation of the huts also carry nets, which strangle into the neck of crawling turtles.

"Most of the huts are equipped with such nets which are literally death traps for the turtles," he said.

Hundreds of thousand people visits Sandpit and Hawksbay beaches annually, especially in summer to beat the scorching heat. Post dusk witness a tremendous turn up of turtles from the sea to the shore and the picnickers try to ride over them.

PRESERVATION

WWF strongly appeals the visiting or living by people to avoid loud noise and sudden movements on the beach and do not use flashlights on the beach. One must keep a 5-kilometer distance if a turtle is spotted lest it may leave the beach without nesting.

"We are also trying to involve other citizen organisations to create greater awareness and stop increasing hostility for this endangered specie."