KARACHI: Fishermen in Thatta released entangled leatherback turtle, one of the rarest marine turtles, at the Khori Great Bank near the Indus Swatch some 100 nautical miles from Karachi.
The five-feet-long turtle was caught in a gillnet laid to catch tuna. Nakhuda Saeed Badsha, captain of the tuna gillnet vessel noticed the giant turtle entangled in his gillnet. He maneuvered the net and after a struggle of about 20 minutes safely released the turtle from it. This is for the first time that such a large turtle was released by fishermen in Pakistan's high seas.
According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor, WWF-Pakistan, the leatherback turtle is among the rarest of marine turtles in Pakistan and recent studies reveal that this species is declining precipitously throughout its distribution range, including Pakistan. He further pointed out that in December, 2016 a very large bloom of jellyfish - leatherback turtles feed upon exclusively- was reported at the same location. 'This is possibly the reason why the leatherback turtle was attracted to the area and got entangled in the fishing net,' he added.
Five species of marine turtles are reported to occur along the coast of Pakistan which includes green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback turtles. Of these, leatherbacks are considered to be the rarest species. Globally, they are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN's Red List of threatened species.
Previously, there were seven authentic reports of its confirmed occurrence in Pakistani waters. Two dead leatherback turtles were reported by the Sindh Wildlife Department in the 1980s from the coast of Karachi whereas one dead turtle was reported from Gwadar (West Bay) in 2012. For the first time, a live turtle became entangled in a net on 16 April 2013 when a group of fishermen operating a monofilament gillnet caught a large leatherback turtle and brought it back to shore in Gwadar near Surbandar village.
The second giant live leatherback turtle was caught in gillnet in Surbandar and was brought to Gwadar and later released back in waters. The third leatherback turtle was entangled in tuna gillnets near Ghora Bari offshore waters on 22 October, 2016 and was released after a very long struggle. On 17 November, 2016 one large leatherback turtle was found dead possibly due to collision with a boat at Miani Hor Lagoon near Sonmiani, Lasbela district, Balochistan.
Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the fishermen in releasing leatherback turtle, noting that its abundance in the Indian Ocean has undergone dramatic decline in the past 40 years. The global population of this species was estimated to be 115,000 adult females in 1982 but declined to 30-40,000 in 1996. The nesting colony in Terengganu, Malaysia, went from more than 3,000 females in 1968, to 20 in 1993 and to just 2 recorded recently - there are no signs of recovery.
Rab Nawaz further elaborated that as WWF considers leatherbacks a priority species, it has initiated a number of programmes globally to protect nesting beaches and near shore habitats by establishing and strengthening sanctuaries and wildlife refuges. Further, he stressed the need to raise awareness among local communities so that they protect turtles and their nests and reduce by-catch in fishing gears.