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Sea Turtle discussion marks Earth Day.

As sea turtles gently waft their way from one end of the Indian Ocean to the other in their perpetual search for food or mates, it is unlikely that they appreciate the immense weight that they carry upon their shells.

It is the weight of global unification and, as turtle numbers continue to fall, it is a load which is becoming heavier. At a discussion group at the US Embassy in Muscat, which also marked Earth Day on April 22, a selection of authorities on sea turtles discussed the value of the creatures, the problems they face and potential solutions.

Earl Possardt of the US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service expressed the feeling that sea turtles are Aoglobal creaturesAo because of their migration habits.

Dr Blair Witherington of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission added, AoYou can have a very useful exchange of information between countries that might not have experience in that area.

" For example, in Florida, they have done a lot of progressive work to minimise the impact of lighting. That information can and should be shared with other countries that have the same problem. In the same way, there are things going on in Oman that other countries could learn from.Ao

The discussion also featured Douglas Hykle, Secretariat of the Indian Ocean-Southeast Asia Marine Turtle Agreement, Robert Baldwin, head of the marine subcommittee of the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), and Sultan al Balushi, also of ESO.

According to the panel, one of the things that is having a major impact on sea turtles is the overdevelopment of coastal areas which turtles have continually used as hatching areas.

Dr Witherington said, AoIf itAAEs a tourism resort that has low-level lighting thatAAEs very well controlled and hidden from the beach, then something like that could be within a few hundred metres of the beach without affecting sea turtles. But a very glitzy resort with many uncontrolled lights, with lots of people visiting the beach without guidance Au that, probably, would not be appropriate near a nesting beach.Ao

Earl Possardt added, AoThe real question is will the Ministry of the Environment, will the Municipalities, will the companies that are going to do the development, will they abide by their agreement? Will it be enforced? This is where it becomes very difficult, not just in Oman, where economics come into collision with resource protection and itAAEs very easy to compromise against the resource because itAAEs going to cost more money.Ao

However, Dr Witherington ended by explaining that it was almost impossible to single out one particular difficulty faced by sea turtles as the reason for their protected status. He suggested that most problems are caused simply by people not realising that what they are doing is harmful.

Robert Baldwin said, AoMost people love sea turtles. IAAEm sure that if they realised that what they were doing was harmful and that a simple change in their ways would stop it, they would. They just need to learn more about sea turtles so that they know what those things are.Ao

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Date:May 3, 2009
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