KARACHI: A two-day symposium that concluded on Wednesday pointed out that sharp contrast in expert views in Pakistan over the extent of sea turtle mortality was a serious problem that needed to be addressed if the government sincerely wanted to secure turtle population as well as safeguard the fishing community’s interests.
The programme titled Sea Turtle Conservation in Asia organised at a local hotel by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as part of its USAID-funded Saving the Endangered Sea Turtle project also highlighted the failure of government and private sector conservation efforts which, it was said, had failed mainly because of either absence or lack of community involvement.
Experts pointed that the latest data on turtle mortality generated through interviews of about 300 fishermen was also supported by a 21-day observation trip undertaken on four boats in deep waters of Sindh and Balochistan.
During the trip, eight turtles were found either killed or in a near-death condition after getting entangled in shrimp trawl nets that were not fitted with a turtle excluder device (TED) while three dead turtles were found floating in Sindh. No mortality was reported in case of the nets fitted with TEDs, they said.
According to the interview-based data, Pakistan has a massive by-catch problem with the shrimp fishery and turtles are getting incidentally caught and killed in large numbers annually. It has been estimated that between 1,817 and 2,381 turtles have died over the last one year.
Very few fishermen were found using TEDs over fears they might lose their catch.
“Pakistan has to act fast before it’s too late. Turtles are dying in huge numbers and if the current situation continues, it will have a huge impact in 10 to 30 years on fishery industry as well as the people dependent on it for their livelihood,” warned Dr Nicolas J. Pilcher, co-chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and executive director of the Marine Research Foundation.
He underscored the need for regional cooperation and said that though nature of the problem differed in every country, the lessons learnt in a specific area could help the other country in developing an effective strategy to save turtles. Regional cooperation was also important given the fact that turtle was a migratory species, he added.
Conservation efforts, he said, should be carried out with a business-minded approach, analysing risks and benefits, modifying strategies and finally coming up with an action plan that really worked on ground with solutions that protected both turtle population and fishermen’s interests.
The day two of the symposium included presentations from experts from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Vietnam. They informed the audience in detail about the success stories as well the challenges being faced in their countries regarding turtle conservation efforts.
Sharing her concerns, IUCN’s Asia Region Director Aban Marker Kabraji said: “If Pakistan doesn’t effectively address the TED issue, it could jeopardise its shrimp exports. Pakistan has been cleared last year by the US authorities that have so far been polite towards it over this issue.”
She was referring to the US legislation under which all countries exporting shrimps to the US needed to ensure that shrimp trawl nets were fitted with TEDs. According to some estimates, Pakistan currently exports $360m worth of fish that includes $60m of shrimp exports.
Conservator of wildlife Javed Ahmed Mahar urged media to educate general public about the critical role turtle played in the marine and freshwater ecosystems. “Their foremost service is to clear our waters that we drink. Our turtle population in the Indus river system has massively depleted over the past few decades and this has given rise to a number of waterborne diseases,” he said.
All the experts at the press conference appreciated what they termed a landmark judgment given by the Sindh High Court that same day on illegal trade in wildlife. “There is a global concern over the increasing illegal wildlife trade, which is believed to fund terror outfits. Seemingly a crime of less severity, illegal wildlife trade is very lucrative and involve huge financial gains,” Mr Mahar said.
Dr Fehmida Firdous of the Sindh wildlife department, Vietnam’s Bui Thi Thu Hien, programme management officer of the Convention on Migratory Species Dugong Memorandum of Understanding Dr Donna Kawan and project leader Turtle Conservation Project, Sri Lanka Thushan Kapurusinghe were also among the speakers.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2015