Conservation key as turtles come back to Kalba after 30-year absence

Sharjah's Environment and Protected Areas Authority is working on protection of turtle species and conservation of their natural habitat in Khor Kalba’s mangroves as it looks to increase numbers of the animals.
An image from drone footage shot while monitoring the turtle population. Courtesy Environment and Protected Areas Authority, Sharjah
An image from drone footage shot while monitoring the turtle population. Courtesy Environment and Protected Areas Authority, Sharjah

SHARJAH // Sea turtles have slowly started to return after a 30-year absence from Sharjah’s east coast waters, and the emirate’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority is on a mission to ensure they flourish.

The authority is working to protect turtles, conserve their habitat in Khor Kalba’s mangroves and increase the animals’ population.

“From locals and fishermen’s accounts, the turtles have not been seen in the area for the past 30 years,” said John Pereira, a researcher at the authority, who said that three species had been seen in 2014.

“Between 120 to 150 sea turtles are found in the area – green turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles – most of which are sub-adults and not ready yet to populate,” said Mr Pereira, from South Africa.

The authority has been using drones to monitor the creatures and obtain accurate information about their whereabouts and population.

“The drones enabled us to find out the hotspots and areas of importance for the turtles,” Mr Pereira said. “The mangrove habitat provides them with shelter and protection from predators and food, which allowed us to highlight the area for priority protection.”

The authority has seen an increase in sea life in the area.

“We spotted reef sharks, ribbon-tailed stingray, eagle ray, giant guitarfish and barracudas, which means our work in the area have been yielding great success,” Mr Pereira said.

“We are working with the municipality and fishermen to report any sea turtles they find to us. Even if they are dead, we take them in and do an autopsy on them to record every biological data we can for our records.”

Pollution has caused a slight increase in turtle deaths in the area, he said.

“Some ships clean out their tanks offshore and when that happens we see a slight rise in the turtles’ mortality rate,” Mr Pereira said.

But because there is no concrete evidence or records of these incidents, the authority cannot say for certain that it is the main reason for the deaths.

“We have been monitoring these incidents for a year. Our graphs are indicating a slight spike in their mortality but we can’t rule that it was the main cause of this spike yet,” Mr Pereira said.

tzriqat@thenational.ae

Published: November 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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