KARACHI, Oct 7: The two-month peak egg-laying season of marine turtles is going on in full swing at the sandy beaches of the city. Sandspit and Hawkesbay are among the most important nesting beaches around the globe where the highly rare marine turtles — Olive Ridley and Green Turtles — come to lay their eggs.

The occasional egg laying activity of the turtles goes on throughout the year but the peak season starts from October and ends at November. During the two months, the marine turtles could be seen coming out of the sea dragging themselves to dry sand as the sun sets. They dig around a couple of feet deep nest-hole to lay approximately 100 white round leathery eggs.

After the eggs are hatched and the hatchlings come out of these nests they follow natural instincts and move towards the sea, while going to water they remember the beach on which they were born and when they become adults, the females return to lay their eggs on the same beach on which they were born over 15 years back.

Turtles lay eggs twice or thrice a year after which they take a rest of at least a couple of years. However, their survival rate is very little. Only one out of every 1,000 eggs becomes an adult, as there are many predators.

The mother turtles after laying eggs and covering the nest returns to the sea leaving the eggs at the mercy of nature. Stray dogs roaming around the beach come, dig up the nests and eat the eggs. The nests are easy to track with the traces lefts behind the mother turtle.

If the eggs remain safe and hatchlings come out of these nests, many of them fall prey to aquatic birds or stray dogs. Even if they reach the sea, there are many marine predators and as such threats continue for one year till their shells become harder.

The turtles face serious threat from the poachers also, as the turtle meat is in high demand in the far eastern countries where it is considered to be a delicacy. Its fat is used to prepare aphrodisiac drugs, skin is used to prepare shoes, purses etc and shell is used to prepare decoration pieces. A few weeks back, a consignment of thousands of kilograms of sweet water soft shell turtles, which are also facing extinction threat, was confiscated, just before being shipped to a far eastern country.

Keeping in view the extinction threat faced by the marine turtles, Sindh government declared them protected and initiated a marine turtle conservation project, under which the wildlife staff patrols the beaches and collects the eggs from the nests, bring them to the protective enclosures, dig a nest-hole of similar depth and bury the eggs.

After incubation when the hatchlings come out of these nests, the staff takes the hatchlings to the beach and leaves them 15 to 20 feet away from the water so that they (hatchlings) remembered the beach when they grew up and returned to lay eggs – approximately a couple of decades later.

The mother turtles, after they have laid the eggs, are also tagged by the staff, to keep a record of their repeated returns. A tagged turtle was sighted near the East Indian coast of Gujarat; one was sighted along the south east African coast while another had been sighted near the Iranian coast.

Responding to the Dawn’s queries, Sindh Wildlife Department’s Turtle Conservation Officer Dr Fahmida Firdous said if some funds were made available much more could be done – like hiring more staff to patrol the beaches and recover the eggs, construction of pools where hatchlings could be kept for a year till they came out of danger, etc — for the conservation of turtles. She said that over the years since the project started in early 1980s over 23,000 mother turtles had been tagged, a couple of million eggs had been collected and over 625,200 hatchlings had been released into the sea.

She said that the year 2006 had been declared as the Year of the Turtle in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (IOSEA) region to spread awareness regarding protection of turtles. Various programmes were also being planned to be organized during the year to highlight the issue, she added.

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