Symbolic turtle race to mark 3-year conservation project

Muscat - 

Seven Hawksbill turtles from Oman are part of the five-week Great Gulf Turtle Race that kicked off on Monday to raise awareness and develop a regional marine turtle conservation plan.

Twenty two turtles from the sultanate, Iran, Qatar and the UAE will try to outdo each other in this symbolic race that finishes on July 11. In their swim across the GCC waters, the turtles, fitted with satellite tracking GPS devices to record their movements,  will vie for  'Furthest Travelled' and 'Most Popular Turtle' titles.

Lisa Perry, director of programmes, Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), which is running a three-year Marine Turtle Conservation Project (MTCP) and organising the race, said, “As part of the conservation project, we tagged 24 Hawksbill turtles in Oman, Iran, Qatar and the UAE this year, of which 22 are part of the race. Seven were tagged in Oman, of which four were tagged in Masirah Island and three in Damaniyat Island."

Marine turtles are migratory animals that travel thousands of kilometres in a lifetime. In 21 days, a post-nesting Hawksbill turtle can travel more than 400km, crossing several international borders. “Last year, we recorded a turtle leaving a beach south of Muscat and travelling 20km a day for 50 days to reach Masirah Island, 1,000km away. And, for the first time ever, a turtle was recorded migrating from the Arabian Sea through the Straits of Hormuz to forage in Gulf waters off Ajman," she said.

In order to raise awareness about the project and its efforts, EWS-WWF launched a comprehensive website in the project’s first year (2010), and decided to launch a virtual turtle race this year. “The locations of turtles already equipped with transmitters were noted at midnight on June 6,” Lisa said.

“The total distance travelled by a turtle from that time until midnight on July 11 will be compared, and the turtle with most kilometres will be awarded the 'Furthest Travelled' title. People can visit to cheer and track the progress of their favourite turtle. The turtle with the highest number of votes will win the 'Most Popular Turtle' title.”

The three year project aims to track up to 75 post-nesting Hawksbill turtles as they swim throughout GCC waters, by creating a detailed map of migratory routes, including foraging and breeding grounds. MTCP will help to form regional conservation strategies in a bid to help protect the Hawksbill turtle, listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.

“The project focuses on a multi-faceted approach that combines scientific research and tracking while raising awareness about the plight of Hawksbill turtles. The goal of the project is to protect marine turtles in the Gulf and the extended region,” Lisa said.

“These turtles depend on coastal habitats including coral reefs for feeding, and beaches for nesting at some stage of their life, and the project will help us to locate these key areas in the Gulf. Ultimately, we aim to develop effective links at regional and international levels through which these nations may develop concurrent conservation agendas.”
She added that she was getting constant support from the Environment Society of Oman and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs.
“We are privileged to be working with these committed organisations.”
The project also offers organisations an opportunity to contribute to conservation efforts in the region by sponsoring one or more turtles. The sponsorship covers tagging costs for that particular turtle and gives the supporting organisation the right to name it.

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