Turtles are turning away from Karachi's beaches

Trash and stray dogs pose threats to breeding of olive ridley and green turtles

Aftab Khan December 18, 2017
Turtles have stopped coming to Sandspit Beach due to garbage strewn across it. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: Sandspit Beach near Hawke's Bay has proven to be a deadly spot for turtles. Stray dogs and eagles feed on turtles' eggs, while plastic bags that are part of the heaps of trash littering the beach have soiled the natural habitat of these turtles.

These threats have stopped olive ridley turtles from laying eggs on Sandspit Beach while the lives of green turtles are also in danger. For decades, Sandspit, located at a considerable distance from the city, has been considered a prime spot for the breeding of olive ridley and green turtles. Unfortunately, after years of human activities, olive ridley turtles' breeding activities on the beach have reduced tremendously. Many green turtles still come to Sandspit to lay their eggs and for breeding purposes.

Illegal trade of turtles destablising Pakistan's ecological system

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently organised an activity to monitor the turtles breeding habits. In the dark of the night, the non-governmental organisation's employees observed that green turtles were actively breeding and laying eggs on the beach.

Turtles dig chambers in the sand and lay their eggs in them. PHOTO: EXPRESS Turtles dig chambers in the sand and lay their eggs in them. PHOTO: EXPRESS

According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature - Pakistan's Wetland Centre Coordinator Naveed Soomro, Balochistan's seashore, Mubarak Village and several other areas are breeding spots for these turtles but Sandspit is more significant as it has an environment conducive for olive ridley turtles to breed and lay eggs.

Animal and environment conservationists are currently in dialogues to identify the cause of the diversion of sea turtles from Sandspit.  However, there are few elements on which all the experts have agreed. These aspects include filth on the seashore, unchecked fishing, excessive use of harmful fishing nets and the increased presence of eagles and wild dogs.

According to the experts, the olive ridley turtles are very sensitive and are able to quickly identify potential threats. The experts said the same threats are being faced by the green turtles and that prompt action should be taken for their conservation otherwise the green turtle population will also shy away from Sandspit.

Plastic bags and other trash littered across Sandspit Beach are a hindrance to the turtles' breeding. The turtles usually dig holes, called chambers, to lay their eggs in. They simultaneously lay 80 to 120 eggs inside it. The plastic bags pose problems for turtles aiming to dig the bigger chamber. If the turtles fail to dig the chamber they go back into the water.

Abandoned fishing nets endanger Sindh's sea creatures

Even if the turtles successfully cover the chamber, stray dogs still pose a major threat to the eggs. These dogs feed on the eggs and leftovers of beachgoers. After getting abundant food supply, these dogs feed on the eggs in the chambers.

Stray dogs wander the beach in search of food and often find turtle eggs. PHOTO: EXPRESS Stray dogs wander the beach in search of food and often find turtle eggs. PHOTO: EXPRESS

According to the IUCN, in one year more than 6,000 baby turtles have been rescued but even more have fallen prey to the hungry canines. The hatchlings also die due to the torn fishing nets and heaps of garbage strewn across the beach. The small turtles crawl across the beach to reach the water shortly after hatching and often get tangled in the fishing nets, becoming easy prey for the stray dogs that populate the beach.

Environmental experts consider all these issues alarming. There is a dire need to spread awareness among people about how small measures can make a big difference in mitigating the threats faced by marine life.

The experts advise beachgoers to act more responsibly and properly dispose of waste instead of dumping it on the beach. By taking such steps, the scenic beauty of the seashore as well as the marine life could be saved.

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