UAE study reveals how humans are killing some of the world's most threatened turtles

Survey of UAE's East coast finds boats and discarded human waste are major causes of death

A turtle killed by a boat strike washes up on the UAE's East coast. Courtesy Environmental and Protected Area Authority
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Human activity has been blamed as a worrying cause of death in more than 100 turtles found along the coast of the UAE.

The investigation by environmental experts found that many of the animals were being killed either after collisions with boats or becoming entangled in human waste like fishing nets.

In one species, the Olive ridley sea turtle, around half the animals recovered had died as a result of being struck by boats.

The Environmental and Protected Area Authority spent four years, from August 2015 to the end of 2019, conducting an in-depth study of turtle mortality.

The authority examined 93 deaths on the coast of the city of Kalba, and nine in Khor Fakkan, for a total of 102 turtles.

They were drawn from four species; the Green sea turtle, Loggerhead turtle, Hawksbill turtle and Olive ridley sea turtle.

An environmentalist holding a green sea turtle before releasing it into the sea. Courtesy Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas
An environmentalist holding a green sea turtle before releasing it into the sea. Courtesy Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas

Green and Loggerhead turtles are classified as endangered, while the Hawksbill is critically endangered. The Olive ridley is the second smallest species of sea turtle in the world.

Only the Hawksbill showed no signs of being hit by boats, but all four species had evidence of becoming entangled in human waste, such as discarded fishing gear and plastic.

"The specialised and field scientific committee teams worked hard to prepare and implement an important and distinguished study, focusing on the causes of sea turtle mortality," said Hana Al Suwaidi, chairwoman of the authority.

In Khor Fakkan, investigations showed one in three dead turtles showed injuries that were the result of become entangled in human waste, and another 22.2 per cent killed by boats.

In Kalba, boat strikes accounted for just under 10 per cent of deaths, with human waste responsible for 3.2 per cent.

Overall, the percentage of turtles found dead by the study showed around six per cent were killed by human waste, while just over 10 per cent died after being hit by boats.

By species, the authority concluded that 7.9 per cent of the green turtles died as a result of collision with boats, while 5.6 per cent died after being entangled in human waste. 16.7 per cent of the Loggerhead sea turtle died due to collision, with 5.6 per cent suffering fatal injuries after being entangled.

While the most numerous, the Olive ridley turtle is also threatened by the activities of man worldwide. The WWF reported that in India alone “the most severe threat they face is the accidental killing of adult turtles through entanglement in trawl nets and gill nets due to uncontrolled fishing during their mating season around nesting beaches.”

The WWF has warned all turtle species are under threat from everything from habitat destruction to climate change.

“Nearly all species of sea turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered,” it says.

The UAE is carrying out a number of conservation measure to protect turtle populations around its coasts, including safeguarding nesting, feeding and breeding sites.