Concerted efforts are required at every level in the country, including active involvement of local fishermen, for conservation of turtles so as to ensure that besides essential ecology the country’s foreign markets for fish and sea food are retained on sound grounds, said the experts addressing a twoday regional symposium on marine turtles and their conservation, opened here on Tuesday.
The event organized by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, under its Saving the Endangered Sea Turtles project is being is being attended by marine turtle conservation experts from Bangladesh, Germany, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and UAE; while representatives from the government line departments, environmental NGOs, academia, and private sector organizations are also participating in it.
Arif Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, chief guest at the symposium, organized with the support of the USAID Small Grants and Ambassador Funds Program, highlighted the importance of ‘respecting other species on earth.’
He reiterated the fact that survival of such threatened and seemingly insignificant species was essential for the health of the overall planet and agreed that Ministry of Climate Change, in accordane to its mandate, should bring together experts to discuss and deliberate on issues for a sustainable future.
“Private sector is a potential partner and a beneficiary, that needs to come forward and make efforts to ensure that international obligations are met by fishermen to ensure uninterrupted seafood exports,” said the secretary, ministry of climate change.
He was complimented Regional Director, IUCN Asia, Aban Marker Kabraji, who mentioned that “Turtles” are an integral component of a coastal ecosystem and related livelihoods. She said that “turtle conservation” is the only single programme that has been run by the Sindh Government uninterrupted for many years and that for many years, IUCN has had a strategic conservation plan which has helped create awareness of the importance of conserving sea turtles.
Ms. Kabraji said conservation and development could go simultaneously together and cited the example of Dhamra Port in India, where IUCN helped the TATA Group to join hands with turtle conservationists in coming up with a strategy to protect the sea turtles there, as the port was being built.
“But in Pakistan, the highest turtle mortality is being witnessed through fishing nets and while moving through the fishing areas, a large number of turtles get trapped in fishing nets and die,” she and regretted that higher rates of mortality in fishing nets pose one of the most significant threats to the turtle, leading to a decline in turtle population globally.
Dr. Nicolas Pilcher, Cochair of IUCN Turtle Specialist Group, reported that a recent baseline conducted along the Pakistani coast, depicted a grim situation for marine turtles. “At least a thousand turtles were caught in the nets during fishing activities revealed by a survey conducted in the year 2014 in Pakistan, and this is a worrying situation, and calls for stringent measures for turtle protection,” said Dr. Pilcher.
He cited the example of Malaysia where turtle excluder devices had proven to be highly successful for fishermen, who were consulted and informed how the use of such a device led to better catch quality, reduced cost of fuel, leaving out trash fish, and brought efficiency in the overall fishing activity.
In Pakistan,there is a need to create further awareness and a better understanding of how the TED must be used, Dr. Pilcher emphasized. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan said that the broader objective was to reduce the direct and indirect causes of marine turtle mortality in Pakistan, and to protect, conserve and rehabilitate marine turtle habitats, which is in line with IUCN’s mission to influence, encourage and assist societies to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and ensure any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable”.
Ghulam Qadir Shah, Project Manager, Saving the Endangered Sea Turtles project briefed the participants about the project objectives and achievements, and how the project contributed to the overall conservation plans by creating awareness and building capacity of local communities
and other stakeholders.
Clara Nobbe, Coordinator, IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Secretariat highlighted the objectives of the IOSEA that is mandated to manage marine species including sea turtles in the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. She said that the primary objective of the organization is to ensure the conservation and optimum utilization of fish stocks and has paid increasing attention in recent years to the impacts of its fisheries on other marine species, such as marine turtles, seabirds and sharks.
Other speakers on the occasion mentioned that Marine turtles are some of the oldest surviving reptiles on the planet. Globally, there are seven species of marine turtles of which six species are found in the Indian Ocean the South East Asian Region.
Four of these, they said have been reported from coastal areas of Pakistan. The populations of the six species of marine turtles of the Asia Region are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.