By Faiza Ilyas
KARACHI: A critically endangered species of marine turtle has been found for the first time in Pakistan. The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) having a 47-centimetre-long carapace was caught in a tuna gillnet off Ormara, Balochistan. It was immediately released back into the sea by the crew of Al Gul Mohammad boat led by Shah Zamin.
“The hawksbill turtle was declared a critically endangered sea turtle in 1996 under the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) Red Data List. The population of marine turtles has declined by 80pc and there hasn’t been any significant population increase since 1996,” said World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) Director Rab Nawaz.
Two species of marine turtles (green and olive ridley turtles), he said, had been spotted in Pakistan. Of them, the green turtle was common that nested along the Sindh and Balochistan coasts.
“Although there is no recent record of the olive ridley turtle from Pakistan, the WWF-P has located large population of these turtles in the offshore waters of Pakistan over the past two years,” he said, adding that last year a leatherback turtle was reported from Sur (Balochistan). It was successfully released back into the sea.
The hawksbill turtle, he said, had a worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical waters. In the Indian Ocean, it had been reported from the African coast to the Persian Gulf, India and South and Far-East Asian countries.
“Previously, a shell of the hawksbill turtle was collected from the Cape Monz. The data, however, couldn’t be verified independently,” he added.
According to Mr Nawaz, there are two species of hawksbill turtle; Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata and Eretmochelys imbricata bissa. The former is found in the Atlantic Ocean while the latter in the Indo-Pacific region (which has now been reported from Pakistan).
“Hawksbill turtles can easily be distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp and curved beak and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. Hawksbill turtle can grow up to one metre in length and weigh around 80kg,” he pointed out.
Technical adviser on marine fisheries to the WWF-P Mohammad Moazzam Khan said that all marine turtles, including the hawksbill, had been listed on the Appendix-I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Hence, it was illegal to import or export turtle products, or kill, capture, or harass the species.