Sultanate’s loggerhead turtle population sinking

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A 30-year study of Oman’s loggerhead turtles has highlighted the need for urgent additional conservation actions. The study has also discovered a 79 per cent decline in nesting population on the Masirah Island.

Various collaborative partners including the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), Environment Authority in Oman (former Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs), United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Service, and Five Oceans Environmental Services, announced the publication of the scientific paper, a major milestone in an extensive study of Oman’s loggerhead turtle populations.

Conducted over a period of 30 years, the study evaluated the long-term population trend and management priorities of the globally-important loggerhead population nesting on Masirah Island. Its most significant discovery was a 79 per cent decline in the nesting population on the island, which has historically been one of the largest nesting grounds of loggerhead turtles in the world.

“Although no trend analysis was completed for the other marine turtle species in Oman, we assume they are also at risk of decline, being exposed to the same threats from land- and sea-based disturbances, yet there is still hope,” Suaad al Harthi, ESO’s executive director, said.

“We must continue, as a community, to raise awareness, to carry out our outreach activities, and to advocate for the protection of our precious marine turtle populations, and make sure that the sultanate continues to be a really important stronghold for turtles.”

Dr Thuraya al Sariri, assistant director general of Conservation at the Environment Authority in Oman, added, “We are grateful for the efforts of all of our partners in the study, through which we are able to build up an understanding of the factors affecting our wildlife and what we can do to protect them in the long-term. It is only with proper regulation, management and conservation measures, along with strong cooperation with all concerned authorities and the involvement of the local community, that we can be successful in conserving our natural resources, and ensure  that they are still around for future generations.”

She added, “The authority has a long history in turtle conservation and has a network of rangers dedicated to their protection at many sites throughout Oman, including Masirah Island. Research is vital to help us gauge progress and select where and how to focus management attention. The reasons for the current population trend are many, some of which are in the high seas beyond Oman’s immediate control, but by making sure we are doing our best in Oman, at least the females will have somewhere safe to nest and the hatchlings will be given a good start in life.

“The authority recognises the urgency of the situation and urges everyone to redouble their efforts to save this globally important population of turtles.”

“Oman is home to five of the seven species of turtles found in the world, all of which are endangered to various degrees on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and face high risk of extinction in the wild,” added Andrew Willson, senior marine consultant at Five Oceans Environmental Services.

“A variety of disturbances like coastal development, light pollution and beach driving, accidental capture in fishing nets (bycatch), ghost fishing, plastic pollution and climate change, all impact both the habitat and population numbers. Through our research, monitoring and satellite tracking, we are starting to build up a better idea of how the loggerheads from Masirah are being affected and this will help the authorities to develop plans for protected areas and strategic conservation management action moving forward.”

The scientific paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science and can be accessed through the link  https://tinyurl.com/y3x26l79

ESO has spent the last 16 years working to protect Oman’s environment through education, awareness and conservation.

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