KARACHI: Loggerhead turtle, a globally endangered marine species, has recently been found about 166 kilometres south-west of Karachi, officials of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) reported on Friday.

It’s the first authentic record of loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) from Pakistani waters, they said.

The specific turtle incidentally got entangled in fishing net on Dec 15 and was released back into the sea by fishermen. It weighed about 30kg.

“We carefully removed the net and pull the turtle out on the board to have a detailed look, measured it and then released it back into the sea,” said Hasnat Khan, captain of Al-Saquib Farman vessel, who along with his colleagues managed to rescue the turtle.

According to Khan, the species had ‘different’ markings on its body that made him believe that it was not one of those turtle species he had earlier seen during his fishing expeditions.

Khan is among the 40 fishermen who have received training from the WWF-P in rescuing non-targeted species, including marine turtles.

Reports about the ‘presence’ of loggerhead turtle in Pakistani marine territory first emerged in 2010. But, investigations showed later that it was an olive ridley turtle, a marine species listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“In the Indian Ocean, a large population of loggerhead turtles exists in Oman, which hosts around 15,000 nests yearly that makes it the second largest nesting population of loggerhead turtles in the world,” said Mohammad Moazzam Khan working as technical adviser on marine fisheries with WWF-P.

Replying to a question about why Pakistan despite being close to a large nesting loggerhead turtle population has never reported the marine species before, he said: “It’s surprising. But, I think this has to do more with the lack of awareness of its specific features the most obvious of which is a large head that supports powerful jaw muscles, allowing the species to crush hard-shelled prey like clams and sea urchins,” he pointed out.

The specific turtle, he said, had a wider distribution, nesting over the broadest geographical range of any sea turtle. It inhabited the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans and the Medit­erranean Sea.

Four species of marine turtles are known to exist in Pakistan, which include the commonly occurring green turtle that nest on different sandy beaches along the coast of Pakistan, including Sandspit, Hawksbay, Paradise Point, Taq (Ormara), Astola Island, Gwadar and Daran (Jiwani).

Another species, the olive ridley turtle, used to nest on the Pakistani beaches but there was no authentic record of their presence for more than a decade till 2013 when WWF-P studies showed that a large population of this turtle existed in the offshore waters of Pakistan.

A few live specimens of leatherback and hawksbill turtles have been reported from the coast of Balochistan over the last three years.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2015

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