KARACHI: On the occasion of the World Sea Turtle Day, WWF-Pakistan calls on all key stakeholders to take necessary actions for the conservation of globally declining population of sea turtles.
Although, there are evidences that the population of green turtles has increased in Pakistan, since 2012 no authentic record of olive ridley turtle nests have been observed. Studies carried out by WWF-Pakistan, however, have confirmed that substantially large populations of olive ridley turtles exist in offshore waters of the country.
Five species of marine turtles are reported to visit the Pakistani coast which includes leatherback, Loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley and green turtles. Green turtles and olive ridley turtles are known to visit the Pakistani coast for nesting, particularly in Sandspit and Hawksbay in Sindh and Ormara, Astola Island and Jiwani in Balochistan.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species three species of sea turtles i.e. olive ridley, loggerhead and leatherback are ranked as vulnerable while, green and hawksbill are classified as endangered and critically endangered respectively which requires immediate steps for the conservation of these reptiles. WWF-Pakistan, since it was established in 1970, has been involved in the conservation of sea turtles and has sponsored a number of projects for research studies and protection of green as well as olive ridley turtles in the country. In order to conserve these majestic animals, the Government of Sindh has established two sea turtle hatcheries in Sandspit/Hawksbay, Karachi whereas WWF-Pakistan has established similar facilities in Daran in Jiwani, Balochistan.
There was no authentic record of occurrence of leatherback, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles from Pakistan but studies carried out by WWF-Pakistan obtained credible evidences of the occurrence of these species. WWF-Pakistan initiated a study on the interaction of fishing activities and sea turtles in 2012 which had revealed that a large number of turtles become enmeshed in various fishing gears, especially in tuna gillnet fisheries. WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen to rescue and safely release entangled sea turtles back into waters and as a result thousands of sea turtles annually are now safely released by these fishermen. Moreover, since 2016, WWF-Pakistan has promoted the use of subsurface gillnet operations, which has reduced the entanglement of sea turtles in tuna gillnets by more than 95 per cent.
Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries) WWF-Pakistan pointed out that in addition to entanglement in fishing gears, sea turtles are facing a number of other threats which includes habitat degradation, loss of nesting area, uncontrolled predation on hatchlings by feral animals; pollution especially from plastic; and illegal trade among others. He urged that key stakeholders should join hands with WWF-Pakistan to strengthen efforts for the protection of the sea turtle population in Pakistan. 'Sea turtles have survived for millions of years but now face the threat of extinction, therefore the need for their conservation cannot be over-emphasized,' he added.
While, Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that satellite tracking of green turtles initiated by WWF-Pakistan in the past has revealed that they migrate long distances in the Arabian Sea. However, migration patterns of olive ridely turtles and other turtle species is not understood. WWF-Pakistan plans to start satellite tracking of other turtle species so that appropriate management measures can be taken for their conservation. He urged that all relevant organizations including NGOs, need to take effective measures for the protection of sea turtles.