KARACHI, Nov 11: Illegal trade in marine turtles seems to be booming in the city as a group of volunteers, who claimed to have bought 200 green turtles from a market, released some of them at the Russian beach on Monday.

Most of the turtles (20 in number) showed little movement when they were released into the water near Port Qasim.

“Their poor condition was due to the freshwater they had remained in while in captivity and also because of poor handling by students. Marine turtles can’t live in freshwater. Often, people who catch them put raw salt in the water which further harms them,” said assistant manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Wetland Centre, Naveed Soomro, who was present at the site with the volunteer group.

The group comprising students of various universities, he said, had sought immediate help of their organisation to release turtles.

“Though the Russian beach is not the right place to release turtles as it’s not their habitat, we appreciate students’ efforts and hope next time they will coordinate their efforts with us. We had recommended that turtles be released at the Sandspit/Hawkesbay beach,” he said.

Dr. Soomro added that the Russian beach had sandy patches and released turtles might not survive there.

Stressing tighter government control over illegal animal trade, he said rescue of turtles by purchasing them was no solution to the problem as that would encourage wildlife traffickers.

Sandspit/Hawkesbay was a turtle nesting areas and it seemed that the hatchlings had been taken from there as their breeding season had started, he said.

Giving details of the turtles’ purchase, Mohammad Usama Zaki representing the group (Bezubaan), said he had purchased 200 turtles for Rs16,000 from the Karimabad animal market last Sunday. Of them, 25 died.

“We had to release 155 turtles at the Seaview the same night as their condition was deteriorating. Taking the rest to Sandspit might have endangered their survival. So we decided to bring them here,” he said.

According to the group members, they have been purchasing and releasing turtles for quite some time. “Two weeks ago, we had purchased and released 70 marine turtles. Last year, too, we did the same practice,” said Moby Aly, another student.

The group members claimed that they had contacted wildlife department officials but did not get a positive response.

Wildlife conservator Dr Fehmida Firdous, however, said that she herself contacted the group after getting information about the turtles’ purchase.

“We had asked them to release turtles in the Sandspit/Hawkesbay area or bring them to our office so we could guide them where they should be released. But they didn’t pay any heed to our suggestion,” she said.

The wildlife department, she said, had been involved in turtle conservation for decades and released thousands of turtle hatchlings into the sea every year.

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