23 August, 2014 / Shawwal 26, 1435

KARACHI, April 17: A leatherback sea turtle — considered one of the rarest and most endangered species of marine turtles — recently caught in a gillnet was rescued and released back into the sea, it emerged on Wednesday.

Previously, there were reports about spotting of the leatherback turtle in Pakistan but no living turtle was ever brought on record in the country.

It can grow up to 900kg and has a teardrop-shaped body.

The WWF-Pakistan director, Rab Nawaz, described the finding of the leatherback turtle in Pakistan as a good omen for biodiversity.

A group of fishermen operating monofilament gillnet had caught the large leatherback turtle near Gwadar near Surbandar village on Tuesday. In order to get the turtle free from their net, the fishermen brought the turtle to the beach, where the WWF-Pakistan staff helped in its rescue and safe release back into the sea.

Mr Nawaz said that the WWF-Pakistan had recently located a large population of olive-ridley turtles in offshore waters of the country which had been thought to be extinct from the area.

“Since the WWF consider leatherback a priority species, it has initiated a number of programmes globally to protect nesting beaches and near shore habitats by establishing and strengthening sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, raising its awareness so that local communities protect turtles and their nests and reduce by-catch in fishing gears,” Mr Nawaz said.

WWF-Pakistan coordinator at Gwadar Abdul Rahim, who played an important role in releasing of this turtle back into the sea, appreciated the role of the fishermen who sacrificed their expensive gillnet (worth about Rs14,000) in an effort to safely release the species. He said there was an increased awareness among fishermen of protection of marine turtles due to efforts of the WWF-Pakistan wetland programme.

“Fishermen now safely release turtle if they are trapped in their nets and other fishing gears,” he said.

“The WWF-Pakistan with the support of the provincial wildlife department has been involved in turtle conservation and awareness programmes along Sindh and Balochistan coasts for almost two decades,” he added.

“Previously a dead leatherback turtle was found in Pushukan near Gwadar in 2002.

The technical adviser (marine fisheries) of the WWF-Pakistan, Mohammed Moazzam Khan, said that since leatherback solely feed on jellyfishes, its occurrence in Pakistan might be on account of recurrence of jellyfish blooms in the coastal areas.

“Leatherback populations in the Indian Ocean have undergone dramatic declines over the past 40 years. The nesting colony at Terengganu, Malaysia, went from more than 3,000 females in 1968, to 20 in 1993 and just two were recorded recently. There are no signs of recovery,” he added.—Agencies

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