Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Arabian Gulf green turtle movement mapped for the first time

World Turtle Day: new study shows Gulf countries should have shared conservation responsibility as turtles travel thousands of miles in search of a mate

A study into the behaviour of green turtles in the Arabian Gulf has mapped their movements in the region for the first time.

The results of the Gulf Green Turtle Conservation Project, which have been released to coincide with World Turtle Day on Thursday, shows how the animals travel thousands of miles in their search for a mate.

According to data collected from the 36 green turtles tagged with satellite transmitters as part of the project, one turtle undertook an eight-month epic journey to Oman via Iran and back to Abu Dhabi.

Leaving Bu Tinah Island in Abu Dhabi, the turtle initially travelled north to Iran before heading to Oman. She eventually mated and nested near Oman's Ras Al Hadd, which hosts more than 80 per cent of all green turtles nesting in the region, before retracing her route, arriving back at Bu Tinah in December.

The project, which includes Emirates Nature – WWF, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Marine Research Foundation, has been running since May 2016.

The study findings show that all countries in the region have a shared responsibility to protect turtles and the seas they inhabit, said the groups.

“By recording a complete migration loop, we were able to better understand green turtles ecological and conservation needs, and the importance of the UAE as being a critical feeding site,” said Jimena Rodriguez, manager of the Gulf Green Turtle Conservation Project at Emirates Nature

“By protecting turtles, we can contribute to greater conservation wins and marine stability in the UAE and region.”

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, acting secretary general of EAD, said past monitoring efforts showed a large population of green turtles were foraging in Abu Dhabi’s waters, but there was no record of them nesting here.

“Following the findings of this project, we will implement conservation initiatives, protecting where the turtles nest and forage. Green turtles and their habitats are a regional treasure that we must work together to protect,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

EAD recently released a video of green turtles being tagged in the waters around Abu Dhabi.

It shows members of the tagging team, including former Abu Dhabi Saracens rugby coach Winston Cowie, diving from a moving boat to catch the large and fast-moving turtles so they could be fitted with beacons.

The team tagged 49 green turtles on their recent trip that will be used to monitor their movements.

“The turtle tagging programme is concentrated on the green turtle,” said Hind Al Ameri, assistant scientist of marine species at EAD. She is also a biological sciences PhD student at the University of Exeter, researching Abu Dhabi turtles.

“It mainly tags female turtles in the state of nesting. That is because the green turtles do not nest in Abu Dhabi waters. We only see them foraging. We really wanted to know where they migrate to nest," the Emirati scientist said.

By recording a complete migration loop, we were able to better understand green turtles ecological and conservation needs, and the importance of the UAE as being a critical feeding site

Jimena Rodriguez, turtle conservationist

The green turtle is one of the world’s largest sea turtles and the only herbivore among the various species.

Classified as endangered, scientists estimate green turtle populations have plunged by 50-70 per cent worldwide over the past century.

Their survival in the region is threatened by increasing incidental captures in fishing nets, coastal development affecting habitats, and the long-term impact of marine pollution and climate change.

But there are extensive conservation efforts in place to protect them.

Bu Tinah, a tiny cluster of islands located in the Marawah marine reserve, is located in one of the most important sanctuaries for turtles in the Indian Ocean, and under the protection of the UN Environment Programme’s Indian Ocean — South-East Asian Turtle pact.

The archipelago, located in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra region, is home to many species, including coral reefs, dugongs, natural mangroves, dolphins, ospreys and Socotra cormorants.

The archipelago narrowly missed out on being named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature after appearing on a shortlist of 28 locations in 2011.

It is one of the 19 protected areas under the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network.

Updated: May 23, 2019 08:12 AM

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