Endangered hawksbill turtle spotted in Pakistani waters

A hawksbill sea turtle, a “critically endangered” species, was spotted near Ormara in Balochistan, the World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan said in a statement issued on Friday.

This is the first time that a hawksbill sea turtle has been seen in Pakistani waters.

The endangered turtle, which goes by the scientific name of Eretmochelys imbricata, was caught by fishermen onboard a tuna gillnet boat a few weeks ago.

WWF-Pakistan Director Rab Nawaz said the hawksbill turtle was declared endangered in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because its population had declined by 80 percent across the world.

“The news of a hawksbill turtle in Pakistan is a new addition to the diversified marine fauna of Pakistan. In the Indian Ocean, the hawksbill turtle is widely distributed from the African coast to the Persian Gulf, India and South and far-East Asian countries.”

Nawaz said previously only a shell of a dead hawksbill was found at Cape Monz, however, this could not be authenticated independently.

So far, two species of marine turtles, green and olive ridley, have been found in Pakistan. Of the two, green turtles are the most common, nesting along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan.

A large population of olive ridley turtles was spotted by the WWF-Pakistan in the offshore waters of Pakistan during the last two years.

Last year, a leatherback turtle, another rare species, was seen in Sur, Balochistan. It was successfully released by the WWF-Pakistan, other environmental organisations and the local communities.

Hawksbill turtles have worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical waters. There are two subspecies are known. Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata are found in the Atlantic Ocean whereas the Eretmochelys imbricata bissa are found in the Indo-Pacific region.

Hawksbill turtles can easily be distinguished from other sea turtles by their sharp and curved beak and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. They can grow up to one metre in length and weigh around 80 kilograms.

The hawksbill turtle was caught near Ormara on board the tuna gillnet boat “Al Gul Muhammad” steered by Shah Zamin.

The boat left shore on November 22 last year and returned after 57 days on January 13.

The WWF-P has started training fishermen to release turtles that are caught in fishing gears. Vital data about the hawksbill turtle was recorded and later the fishermen released it.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the WWF-P’s technical adviser on marine fisheries, said marine turtles including hawksbills had been listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Therefore, it is illegal to import or export turtle products, or to kill, capture, or harass them.

Hawksbill turtles are omnivorous but sea sponges are their principal food in some areas. The also feed on algae, cnidarians, comb jellies and other jellyfish, and sea anemones. Normally, hawksbills lay around 140 eggs which hatch after 60 days. The turtles mature in about 20 years and lay eggs after every two or three years.

There is no authentic record of their breeding in Pakistani waters although coastal communities do report typical track of hawksbills in some isolated localities along the Balochistan coast.

January 18, 2014 Post Under News update - Read More

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