4 years. 4 countries. 75 tagged turtles. One shared vision: a safer, healthier future for marine turtles in our region.
We wrapped up our Marine Turtle Conservation Project in November 2014. It was an initiative that we started in 2010 in partnership with other organisations dedicated to the cause. To date, it is the largest initiative in the region to understand marine turtle behavior and conservation needs in the Arabian Gulf. This was done by gathering data from 75 Hawksbill turtles tagged with satellite transmitters, sending a signal every time they surfaced to breathe.
Marine turtles are a key species in the marine ecosystem, yet the Hawksbill turtle is listed critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature); and adequate nesting sites are a rarity due to man-made threats. As little was known on turtle migration patterns or feeding grounds, the project was created to identify turtle migratory routes and ITAs (Important Turtle Areas – where turtles migrate and feed) as potential areas of conservation in the Arabian Gulf. Also, because turtles are not restricted to the waters of any specific country, the project also sought to raise awareness on turtle conservation on a regional scale.
The research identified ITAs in waters belonging to UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. Also, a curious trend was observed for the first time in science: turtles migrating to cooler waters during the summer, and returning back to their original grounds in autumn – a possible consequence of rising sea temperatures due to climate change. The research also identified pollution, by-catch and coastal development as three of the most significant potential threats to marine turtles.
To continue in the quest for safeguarding marine turtles’ future, our team issued a set of recommendations following the project. First, to increase conservation measures in Important Turtle Areas (ITAs), or at least reduce the effects of the threats listed above. The second recommendation is to do further research on marine turtles’ distribution and populations. And finally, to increase regional collaboration and information-sharing, because working together on a regional scale is the most comprehensive way to protect our turtle friends.
Why was this project important?Marine turtle populations around the globe are threatened with extinction, having been heavily over-harvested and having their habitat increasingly destroyed by mankind. With increased coastal development, urbanisation and industrialisation, the global population of marine turtles is in decline. Nowadays, critical measures are urgently needed to safeguard the few remaining turtle nesting, feeding and breeding sites on beaches and at sea; as well as their migratory pathways.
Two out of the seven species of marine turtles, the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), occur in Gulf waters. Worldwide, the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2008) lists the Hawksbill turtle as critically endangered and the green turtle as endangered. At the local and regional level the stocks of these species are threatened and the number of foraging habitats and nesting grounds are continually declining.
Project & Objectives
- Raise the awareness of marine turtle conservation needs at regional levels;
- Understand the post-nesting migrations and biology of marine turtles using satellite tracking;
- Identify the foraging grounds of endangered marine turtles and linkages between nesting and feeding population assemblages;
- Share tracking data and findings to relevant authorities and contribute to the development of a regional marine turtle conservation plan;
- Integrate these conservation initiatives within international conservation agreements on marine turtles and national programmes.
How you can help
- Adopt a turtle. With your symbolic adoption you can contribute to our turtle conservation efforts, and raise awareness about this important cause.
- Do your part. Turtles are very sensitive to their environment, so learn about how you can alter your beach and water activities during turtle nesting season to encourage turtles to nest. Link to Support The Project pages.
What now for the project?The project maybe over but the work to protect our marine turtles continues.
Now that we’ve published the results of the project, the real work begins to turn them into measures governments can implement to protect marine turtles.
Protection can come in many forms: by implementing Marine Protected Areas, by businesses applying sustainable practices to reduce their impact, by continuing our research to better understand how to protect marine turtles, and by increasing awareness of the problem and encouraging people to take action.
Not one of these alone will solve the problem, so a combination of all of them is needed and we are working on all fronts.
EWS-WWF has shared recommendations to governments and businesses across the UAE on ways how they can improve their practices, and we have published the story of our turtles in international scientific journals and magazines and websites, including the leading international database of tracking data, OBIS-SeaMap.
Our project was also highlighted alongside other WWF projects protecting turtles around the world. Click here to see our Gulf turtles making it on the world stage.
Moving forward as part of EWS-WWF’s Marine Strategy, we are looking to carry out further research on turtles in our region so that can really make a difference to the future of these incredible creatures.