Conservation of sea turtles must for seafood exports

Karachi: A two-day Regional Symposium on marine turtles and their conservation was organized by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in Karachi today under its Saving the Endangered Sea Turtles project. The Symposium, organized with the support of the USAID Small Grants and Ambassador Funds Program, was attended by marine turtle conservation experts from Bangladesh, Germany, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and UAE; while representatives from government line departments, environmental NGOs, academia, and private sector organizations also participated in the event.

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 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.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, who was the chief guest at the symposium, highlighted the importance of “respecting other species on earth” and described how the survival of such threatened and seemingly insignificant species was essential for the health of the overall planet. He underscored the role of the Ministry of Climate Change, which, as its mandate, should bring together experts to discuss and deliberate on issues for a sustainable future. He emphasized that private sector is a potential partner and a beneficiary, which needs to come forward and make efforts to ensure that international obligations are met by fishermen to ensure uninterrupted seafood exports,” he added.

“Turtles are an integral component of a coastal ecosystem and related livelihoods,” said Ms Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director, IUCN Asia. Ms. Kabraji observed that “turtle conservation is the only single programme that has been run by the Sindh Government uninterrupted for many years. For many years, IUCN has had a strategic conservation plan which has helped create awareness of the importance of conserving sea turtles.” She said conservation and development could go simultaneously together, citing 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. “While moving through the fishing areas, a large number of turtles get trapped in fishing nets and die. 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,” revealed Ms. Kabraji.

Dr. Nicolas Pilcher, Co-chair 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,” Dr. Pilcher revealed. 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, he added, there is a need to create further awareness and a better understanding of how the TED must be used, Dr. Pilcher emphasized.

Mr. 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.

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