Dubai / Emirates Business
Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), is marking World Biodiversity Day on May 22 by launching a ground breaking scientific research project – The Gulf Green Turtle Conservation Project – with the ultimate aim of conserving endangered marine species and critical habitats in the UAE and wider region.
Over the course of the next four years the team of marine experts will gather scientific data on green turtle migration and mating patterns in order to identify critical marine habitats in need of protecting. The research includes tagging green turtles with satellite transmitters in various nesting and foraging sites across the region, obtaining small tissue samples (DNA) from the turtles which will then be analysed to detect linkages between feeding and nesting populations; and finally, performing a laparoscopy* on adult-sized turtles to provide ground breaking data on population connectivity important for the conservation of green turtle populations in the long-term.
Commenting on the role marine turtles play in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans, Marina Antonopoulou, Marine Programme Leader at EWS-WWF said: “Green turtles are one of the very few animals to eat sea grass. By doing so, they help maintain the health of the marine environment. Sea grass is vital to many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without healthy seagrass beds, many marine species could be lost, which would also impact an important food source for us all. There is a lot at stake as worldwide, around 1 billion people rely on marine fish as a main source of protein.”
The Arabian Gulf is home to rich biodiversity including the second largest population of dugongs on Earth, critically endangered hawksbill and endangered green and loggerhead turtles, as well as over 25 species of sharks. However, with species numbers in decline, vital habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds disappearing, and fish stocks being pushed to the limit, there is an urgent need for better marine planning and management to ensure marine ecosystems can continue to function and remain resilient in the long term.
Antonopoulou added: “Turtles and their marine habitat remain threatened. This is due to human activities including: modification or loss of nesting beaches, habitat degradation and loss caused by pollution, climate change and coastal development, that are putting increased pressure on marine turtles. Through our research we aim to highlight the impact all sectors of society are having on our marine environment and hope to inspire individuals, businesses and governments to take action.”
Antonopoulou continued: “Partnerships play a key role in our efforts to drive the course of conservation and we are actively looking for sponsors willing to support us in our efforts to conserve endangered marine species, such as marine turtles, and critical habitats in the UAE.”
The Gulf Green Turtle Conservation Project is designed to provide robust scientific data from which strategies can be designed to address threats to marine species, rather than solely focusing on fragmented national and local actions that do not benefit highly migratory species such as turtles and marine wildlife.
“Despite our extensive understanding of nesting populations in the region, there remains a considerable information gap on feeding and behaviour of marine turtles when they are at sea where they spend over 95% of their lives. With comprehensive understanding of the potential linkages between nesting and feeding grounds, we will be better equipped to develop recommendations towards safeguarding critical marine habitats for turtles and ultimately other marine species,” said Paola Ferreira, Conservation and Climate Director at EWS-WWF.
The Gulf Green Turtle Conservation Project is a continuation of EWS-WWF’s efforts to protect the Gulf’s marine environment. It follows the success of the previous 4-year Marine Turtle Conservation Project that tracked 75 female hawksbill turtles nesting in the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Iran. The 2010-2014 project helped identify Important Turtle Areas (ITAs) in need of conservation action.