On Your Marks…Get Set…SWIM! The Great Gulf Turtle Race has begun!
UAE - June 12, 2012: Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF) is excited to launch the second year of its Great Gulf Turtle Race, as part of its Marine Turtle Conservation Project.
This four-week light-hearted race serves as an interactive platform for the UAE community and beyond to learn about the plight of Hawksbill turtles in the region. The launch of the race coincides with the conclusion of the turtle nesting season, where the conservation team from EWS-WWF has been busy working in the field since mid-April to fit satellite transmitters to 31 Hawksbills.
This year, of the 31 tagged turtles, 28 of them will be competing in the symbolic event to win the titles of most popular and furthest travelled turtles. Beginning at midnight on June 12, the current locations of turtles already equipped with transmitters will be noted. The furthest distance travelled by a turtle from that point in time until midnight on July 12, 2012 will “win” the race.
Turtles in the race have been creatively named by their sponsors, who through their generosity covered the costs associated with tagging their sponsored turtle(s). The dedicated website www.gulfturtles.com houses a wealth of information on Hawksbills and is the go-to place during the race to vote for your favourite turtle as well as chart their migratory progress. The race is the fun element, helping to raise awareness of the threats facing this species, listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. However, there is a more serious side to this which is the robust multi-country research project. The EWS-WWF Marine Turtle Conservation Project works closely with partners in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Iran as well as the Marine Research Foundation in Malaysia to collect data to locate areas which these creatures rely on for their future survival.
Lisa Perry, Programme Director at EWS-WWF, said: “It is important for the project to carry such a regional dimension – as a post-nesting Hawksbill turtle can travel across several international borders and as a result these movements demand international conservation measures. The reason for this is because the turtle may nest in one country, migrate through the waters of another and finish her journey by ending up at her feeding ground in yet another country. Knowing these migration patterns is crucial to protecting them in the future.”
The Marine Turtle Conservation Project has now tagged a total of 75 Hawksbills from the region with satellite transmitters during the three years of the project. These transmitters provide valuable insights into the turtles’ migrations by providing data on their movements from their nesting grounds to feeding grounds. The transmitters send a signal to an orbiting satellite which records their location each time the turtle surfaces to breathe. Using computer software, a detailed map of the turtles’ movements is created and regularly updated maps are uploaded to www.gulfturtles.com
Some key findings from the project so far include the EWS-WWF conservation team recording a turtle migrating from the Arabian Sea through the Straits of Hormuz to forage in Gulf waters off Ras al Khaimah in 2010 and turtles leaving a beach north of Muscat, Oman, in 2011 and travelling approximately 1000km to an area southwest of Oman’s Masirah Island
Also in 2011, the same conservation team noted a majority of turtles shift to northern waters in the Gulf when the summer temperatures peaked, most likely in search of cooler waters.
The important information garnered so far is helping the EWS-WWF team fill regional data gaps and guide the creation of effective conservation programmes in the region in a bid to protect the Hawksbill turtles’ future.
Lisa Perry added: “It’s really important for people to understand the significance of conserving this species, not only have they been around for millions of years, but they are integral to marine and coastal ecosystems.”
Last year’s race saw turtle Speedy, tagged in Iran, swim an impressive 670km to claim the title furthest travelled meanwhile turtle Amal won most popular. The race is now wide-open again for a new cohort of turtles, which are being sponsored by a number of organisations from the across the UAE and Qatar.
EWS-WWF is welcoming the regional community to join the Great Gulf Turtle Race by voting for their favourite turtle and charting their progress as they swim throughout the region on www.gulfturtles.com
Turtle race supporters can also join in the fun by following the race on EWS-WWF’s social media at: www.facebook.com/ews.wwf