Monday, July 26, 2010

Turtle migration path in the Gulf seas revealed

The Gulf Today, 26 July 2010

NEW evidence of turtle migration patterns in the Middle Eastern seas have been revealed through the movements of a pack of turtles that were tagged and released to the sea recently by a UAE-based environmental group.
Findings of the group’s marine environment project have highlighted the significance of the Gulf as a Hawksbill feeding habitat. The tagged turtles disproved scientific theories that have existed for years, say scientists.
The preliminary results of marine turtle tagging project, initiated by the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWF-WWF) and the Marine Research Foundation (MRF) based in Malaysia, showed that Qatar is an important conservation area for the endangered marine species.
According to the environment group, the project seeks to track the migration patterns of 75 Hawksbill turtles over the course of three years through satellite mapping software.
Dr Nicolas J Pilcher, founder of the MRF and research advisor of the EWF-WWF for the project, said that the movements of 20 turtles tagged in Iran, Oman, the UAE and Qatar have already been recorded and initial findings have uncovered interesting results.
“The southern shores off Iran boast some of the most abundant soft corals and reef formations attracting Hawksbill turtles, but currently the turtles have swum away towards other countries,” she added.
“The five turtles in Iran were tagged in April and data shows that all of them have moved west and southwest towards Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Two have currently inhabited islands to the north of Abu Dhabi,” pointed out Dr Pilcher.
“Another two turtles in the group have swam towards the northern tip of Qatar, with one of those taking up residence in feeding grounds about 50 kilometres off Doha and the other settling off Qatar’s north coast by Ras Riken. The fifth Iran-tagged turtle swam past Qatar and Bahrain and now appears to have settled off the shores of the KSA,” elaborated the marine biologist.
“Meanwhile,” Dr Pilcher said, “the turtles nesting in Oman seas spent less time as residents and more time traveling - many of them as much as 1500 kilometres. Three of them headed south towards Masirah Island.”
“The turtle with the No.53003 seems to be a little more curious than the others and is the first Hawksbill Turtle recorded to swim up into the Gulf from Oman,” she added.
Lisa Perry, programme director of the EWS-WWF, said, “It has been believed by many scientists that the smaller size of the Gulf turtles compared to the larger Omani turtles and genetic isolation meant that there was no movement between populations.”
The first turtle tagged in the UAE, ‘Ms. EMEG,’ was released off the mainland shore of Jebel Ali just a couple of kilometers from Palm Jebel Ali.
“We were concerned the female turtle would get caught in offshore construction but when we tracked her movements, she headed deeper into the Gulf and missed both the Palm and World developments and headed straight up to Sharjah and Ajman,” she added.
“In Qatar, the turtle ‘Q’ made a purposeful migration south and has made the corner between the KSA, Qatar and the UAE its home. The other four turtles have taken up residence off the coast off Qatar, close to Bahrain and KSA,” said Dr Pilcher.
“But, none of the turtles took up residence on the east side of the Gulf, instead all of them went west or south,” added the marine turtle specialist.
“As the project develops, we will be able to delineate the important areas that turtles frequent and work towards the further conservation of these habitats,” said Dr Pilcher.

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