Member states call for enhanced regional collaboration for conservation of marine turtles

In order to take concerted efforts for conservation of marine turtles, the Northern Indian Ocean Marine Turtle Task Force (NIO-MTTF) established by the CMS IOSEA Marine Turtle MOU, held its second meeting hosted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka in Colombo from 29-30 January. The meeting was supported by Engro Foundation which is working closely with WWF Pakistan to promote environmental conservation amongst coastal communities and is keen on launching a project on wildlife management in 2018.

Pakistan plays an extremely important role in the well-being of the Green Turtle which nests along the coastline of Pakistan but then disappear the remaining of the year. Likewise many Olive Ridley turtles are caught in nets in Pakistani water but never go near a beach to nest. To fill this knowledge gap Engro and WWF-Pakistan will launch turtle habitat management program and will tag 1000 turtles (flipper tags) and satellite track a further 10 turtles and upload their locations real-time wherever they go. Engro Foundation launched its program with WWF-Pakistan in August 2016 which targets three (3) union councils in Karachi, Pakistan and is partnering with the fisher groups, fisheries departments and private sector to support and promote improved fisheries management in Rehri, EbhrahimHyderi and Kakapir by reforming governance and management to combat illegal fishing and reduce pressure on marine ecosystems through increased awareness.

“We are very excited about the work we are doing with WWF-Pakistan and are looking forward to increasing regional cooperation with the participating countries through workshops such as these which will allow regional scientists an enriching database and information on safe releases of turtles and tagging program. Engro is confident that the level of expertise and knowledge of these scientists and conservationists will lead to the successful development and recovery action plans for the conservation of marine life,” said Aman ul Haque, head of Engro Foundation.

Turtle experts and government officials from the member countries namely Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka participated in the meeting, supported by a number of other regional experts and NGO’s. The group emphasized on the need to enhance regional cooperation among member countries of the NIO-MTTF.

During the meeting, different issues facing marine turtles in the region were discussed. It was shared by member states that turtle nesting beaches have been badly affected by marine pollution and development activities which are degrading their habitats. Besides, incidental bycatch in fisheries practices and ghost nets pose a serious threat to turtles.

As an outcome of the meeting, a regional action plan has been developed. The task force suggested that the best practices from other countries should be adopted by the NIO states. It was recommended that to discourage the use of plastic, awareness campaigns should be conducted.  States committed on effective enforcement of relevant legislations, reducing mortality and collaborative research initiatives including satellite and flipper tagging and genetic studies of turtle species. Member states recommended to promote sustainable livelihood among local communities for their effective engagement in turtle conservation activities.

Heidrun Frisch-Nwakanma, IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Coordinator, highlighting the purpose of MoU, which was signed by 35 countries aiming to work together for conservation and management of marine turtles and their habitats. She emphasized that a key role of the MTTF was to strengthen regional cooperation and capacity building in the member states. Meetings such as this one allowed the exchange of scientific data and experiences. She also highlighted the Network of Sites of Importance for Marine Turtles in the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia Region and encouraged the Task Force to start thinking about sites that could be nominated. 

One of the governmental representatives at the meeting, Samar Hussain Khan, Deputy Director Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan said that awareness raising and effective community engagement has been the key components of conservation programme in Pakistan. ‘Export and domestic consumption of turtles is strictly prohibited under different laws in Pakistan and in this regard government has declared some of the important nesting sites as Rasmar sites such as Astola Island and Jiwani Coastal Wetlands’, he added.

Umair Shahid, Manager Marine Programme WW-Pakistan; ChannaSuraweera, Assistant Director Marine Department of Wildlife Conservation at Sri Lanka ; Ibrahim Naeem, Director General from Maldives; Dr. Manjula Tiwari, Research Scientist Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program, USA; Dr. Md Mohiuddin, Joint Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forests, Bangladesh; Muralidharan Field Director Dakshin Foundation, India; Dr. Lalith Ekanayake Chairman Bio Conservation Society Sri Lanka; Rosalind Mary KernanBown, Researcher; Dr. Andrea Phillott, Professor Environmental Studies, FLAME University India also spoke on the occasion.

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