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Growing human presence poses threat to turtle hatching sites in northern Qatar.

Santhosh Chandran

Doha

ENVIRONMENTALISTS in Qatar are concerned over the growing number of visitors to the country's northern beaches, which are known for being turtle nesting and hatching sites including that of 'hawksbill', the most endangered of turtle species.

A study initiated in 2002 by the authorities in association with Qatar University and Qatar Petroleum, identified four north eastern beaches (Fuwairit, Al Ghariya, Ras Laffan, Al Maroona) and four islands (Halul, Sherawoo, Ras Rakkan, Umtais) as turtle nesting sites.

As part of a campaign to conserve turtles, Qatar University had identified Fuwairit and the nearby four small islands as the nesting sites. Also, according to the Ministry of Environment website, Fuwairit beach and Ras Laffan comprise 30 percent of the total nests of sea turtles in the area.

Considering the importance of this species and the commitment to environment, the ministry launched a campaign titled 'save turtles' to protect and conserve the turtle population in the Qatari waters.

A researcher at Qatar University, Shafeeq Hamza said,"The sea turtles nesting and hatching in Qatar has to be protected. But human interruption is still a threat."

An environmentalist and a social activist Subain Ahmed said,"With the better road networks, more people are visiting these beaches especially on weekends. The beaches are often crowded with people and vehicles, which pose a threat to turtles' safe movement from the water to the shore. Therefore, fencing is a must during nesting season on such sites to keep people at bay."

Akhil Krishna, a member of 'Qatar Turtle Watch', a group dedicated to conserving turtles, said that most of the people are still not aware of the significance of turtle conservation, adding that human interruption can be controlled to some extent with an awareness drive on turtles.

Even though the move to set the ground for nesting has already begun by removing all the synthetic garbage, the plastics left by the 'excursionists' is an all-time challenge during hatching season which begins in June. Plastic bags are a deadly threat to turtles as they can eat them, mistaking it for jellyfish.

Responding to a query on the status of turtles' population since an action plan was implemented to conserve turtles in 2007 following the completion of the study, a member of the research team said,"Since turtles have a long life, we cannot say anything in definitive terms about their population. It will take a minimum of 25 years to say whether its population has increased or dropped."

The research team member added,"Researches have already noted that turtles in this region always prefer northern coasts for nesting and hatching."

The hatching season presents a rare opportunity for nature enthusiasts to witness young turtles hitting the water for their long voyage into the ocean. It takes around 30 years for female hatchlings to return, amazingly, to the same beach for nesting. Nesting sites are spread along northern beaches of Qatar.

The abnormal high tide that hits northern cost every year is also a threat to the eggs in the month of June. So, physical support is much in demand."We are ready to welcome the turtles at the shore. We will physically shift the eggs to safer place at the shore itself during those days," Hamza added.

The turtles lay an average of 90 eggs per nest with an incubation period of 55 to 70 days. The eggs only hatch after dark, when the sand surface cools. July is the hatching season for turtles. Once hatched, the hatchlings take up to two-three days to emerge from the sand. Slowly, they crawl down the beach and straight into the sea, using light, wave direction and the earth's magnetic fields for guidance.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Apr 25, 2016
Words:629
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