Turtle lady recalls Masirah days

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Muscat: A Greek lady specialised in sea turtles and working on them for many years in her home country, has high impressions about the turtle conservation project and environment research in the Sultanate.

The fact that Oman hosts the most important Loggerhead Turtle rookery in the world always fascinated her to work in Masirah which later led to the creation of the first-ever Environmental Information Centre.

As a legal professional specially trained in Environmental Law and Management, Nancy Papathanasopoulou organised and carried out many successful sea turtle conservation projects on Masirah Island for five years.

The project was carried out in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and sponsored by Total Group through its Foundation for Biodiversity and the Sea, as well as Total SA-Oman branch from June 2004 to 2009.

Nancy was the field coordinator and adviser to the Masirah Turtle Conservation Project (MTCP) that conducted a beach and endangered turtle survey launching the first satellite tracking operation in the island.

The five-year project studied the four nesting species of sea turtles on the island and proposed a general management plan to the authorities based on their conservation.

Their initial field work came up with mainly three deliverables. These relate to the population assessment of four species of nesting turtles, package of environmental information and education, and lastly a general management plan of the island based on sustainable development.

As in Athens, she was working in several capacities as a volunteer, legal professional, researcher, nature conservation consultant, and had significant experience on the actual conservation methods, needs and politics.

But the Middle East proved for her to be an excellent experience to adapt to different cultures and relative lack of legal and institutional background on the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems.

Recalls Nancy about her Masirah experiences.

“It is impossible not to notice that the island is blessed with unique environmental features of extreme interest: Apart from the 60 kilometres of turtle nesting/mating/feeding beaches and beachfront areas, there are immense wetlands with hundreds of thousands of birds all year round. Some beaches are strewn with hundreds of thousands of seashells and upon a simple snorkel one meets an amazing multitude of reef life, as well as significant marine megafauna such as dolphins, whales, sharks, rays and of course sea turtles.”

As a result, Nancy and her colleagues, all nationals from foreign countries, decided to extend work to that multitude of important species and their ecosystems as well. They worked day and night fascinated by this incredible island and its environmental treasures.

At the end of their duty, they created a general management plan on sustainable development based on the conservation not only of turtle species but also the unique monotypic reef of Masirah.

They included highly protected core areas and those of less strict protection, suitable for ecotourism development and stated all the species and their status according to their degree of danger based on international indicators.

Their plan was later used as an example when the Oman government formulated the Master Plan for all Governorates in the Sultanate.
“It was one of my most gratifying moments in my 15 years of work in the Middle East,” she mentions.

Later, Nancy proceeded to Kuwait where she did a similar project at its southern islands for eight years. The turtles are much fewer in Kuwait, and much more endangered as she and her team stayed at coast guard stations on three tiny islands close to the border with Saudi Arabia.

As project manager she brought out coffee table books on Birds of Kuwait and Coral Reefs of Kuwait, with scientifically solid information published in 2012 and 2015.

Nancy is now a certified drone pilot and project leader, currently part of a drone research project in the Greek side of an EU project called ‘Life Euroturtles.’ This project, under the auspices of the Environment Commission in Brussels, subsidises countries hosting turtles to help them in assessment, conservation and scientific research.

She leads teams on select beaches in Greece and flies all year round to see if the marine areas contain sea turtles and other types of species.

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