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Sea turtles on verge of extinction

7 Sep 2017

Gazi Anowarul Hoque :
Sea turtles, critically jeopardized worldwide, are also in danger in Bangladesh due to illegal fishing and unsustainable tourism. It is also creating negative influence on biodiversity, Marine Specialists said.
They said over 18,000 illegal fishing nets in deep sea of the Bay of Bengal have become a death trap for the turtles as around 5,000 mother turtles died in last one year because of these illegal nets.
There are around five species of sea turtles. Of them, Olive Ridley Turtles, Loggerhead Turtle, Green Turtle and Leatherback found in Bangladesh to lay eggs. But they are now endangered in Bangladesh while the fifth one Hawksbill Turtle is on the verge of extinction, said the Marine specialists.
The Centre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources and Management (CARINAM), an NGO working on biodiversity, in a recent survey on the status of critically endangered turtles of Bangladesh, found that fishermen collect the turtles and sell them to wholesalers in local markets.
They survey added July-August is the breeding season for sea turtles. Mother turtles lay hundreds of eggs in the beach ranging from Sonadia Island to St Martin’s Island during the season. Later the baby turtles hatched out into the sea.
Sources said some unscrupulous groups had

long been poaching sea turtles and their eggs to sell them to different hotels and markets, adding that some locals had been involved in this illegal business for many years.
Nazrul Islam Sumon, Officer for Community Based Adaptation in the Ecologically Critical Areas through Biodiversity Conservation and Social Protection (CBA-ECA) Project under the Department of Environment (DoE) told The New Nation that marine turtles are the sign of healthy sea and healthy fishing grounds.
“This message should be relayed to the fishermen until the last member of the community understands what it means,” he said.
Expressing concern he also said, “Breeding areas of sea turtles will be destroyed soon if the authorities concerned do not take actions in this regard.”
Talking to The New Nation, St Martin’s Island Union Parishad Chairman Nurul Amin on Friday said, “Turtles lay eggs till November. Many eggs are ruined by the tourists because of their lack of knowledge about its importance for biodiversity.”
He expressed concern that breeding could be hampered because of the increasing number of tourists in turtle breeding areas-Sonadia Island and St Martin Island.
The specialist said mother turtles would not come to the coast to lay eggs because of sound pollution and usage of generators in the area.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) study determined that the most significant threats across all of the threatened populations of sea turtles are fisheries bycatch, accidental catches of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species, and the direct harvest of turtles or their eggs for food or turtle shell material for commercial use.
Sarder Shariful Islam, Assistant Director of Cox’s Bazar DoE, said, according to Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation and Safety) Act of 2012, “St Martin Island and Shahporir Island are restricted areas. We have imposed some bans to maintain a balance in the environment. Coastguards and the naval force have been assisting in this regard. We also deployed guards to stop stealing turtle eggs.”
Dr SMA Rashid, Chief Executive of CARINAM said, the forias (middlemen) buy each marine turtle weighing around 5 kg for Tk 1,000, and sell the meat for Tk 450-500 per kg.
“All marine turtles are globally endangered,” Rashid said. “Female marine turtles travel more than thousand kilometres to come to nest on the beaches of Bangladesh but unfortunately get caught in fishermen’s nets and killed.”
“Being a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Migratory Species, and the Memorandum on the Indian Ocean Sea Turtle Conservation, Bangladesh needs to take appropriate measures for conservation and management of marine turtles.”
Scuba Diver and turtle specialist SM Atiqur Rahman said, “Bangladeshi fishing trawlers and mechanized boats usually use drift, gill and fixed gill nets which entangle turtles, trap them and consequently cause death.
Using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in nets is an important tool to reduce incidental by catch and mortality of sea turtles. But no Bangladeshi fishing vessel uses TED, he said.

(This article was published in the daily New Naon on 22nd-Aug-2015)

The writer is a Marine Conservationist based in Bangladesh. He can be reached at gazianower@gmail.com

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