02 August, 2007

Hadhramaut: The Turtles Are Here

Each year, from June to August, the Turtles come. In thousands. To lay eggs on many of Hadharamaut's beaches. I remember, a few years ago, it was very easy to see the turtles in the waters along the Mukalla sea shore. Many times, I and my family, could see tens of them swimming in the waters very close by; we could almost touch them. They weren't that scared. And not far from the center of Mukalla in Fo'wah and Broom, about ten to thirty kilometers West, hundreds of the turtles could be found laying eggs at nights. It was so easy to find them. Now, that's not as easy as it was. With constant activity along the Mukalla coast line: with more and more boats, more ships, extensive fishing, buildings and the sea being filled up and built up, and constant activity on the beaches - it has become hard to see the turtles close to Mukalla proper. One has to go a little further to see them.

Few creatures are as peaceful and adorable as sea turtles and they do live for long, up to eighty years; some say, turtles can live up to a hundred years. Sea turtles return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their own pile of one hundred or so eggs; but, the noise and activity of people on the beach- as it is now happening increasingly around Mukalla and other adjacent areas - may cause females to return to the sea instead of nesting. Artificial lighting on beaches and street lights close to the sea - another increasing factor around here - too, may misrepresent the time of day to turtles attempting to nest. Most turtles are nocturnal nesters, and to a turtle that has not yet come ashore to nest, a brightly lighted beach may signify daylight and inhibit nesting.

Hadhramout beaches, like many other Yemeni beaches in the Gulf of Aden and Hodeida, and the 150 or so Yemeni islands distributed in the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian sea - provide suitable nesting grounds for sea turtles. Yemeni law protects the turtles and their nesting grounds, but as the Yemeni coastline is long and the country doesn't have enough resources - the turtles face threats from both Man and animals. People, especially fishermen, catch turtles for meat or to use their shells for decoration, and try to find their eggs too - and dig them out, to eat. Dogs and birds don't leave the turtles alone too, once they reach the shores. Once the eggs hatch, the little turtles have to face up and struggle through the many dogs and carnivorous birds before reaching the safety of the sea.

I understand, there are about five turtle species: the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) - within the Gulf of Aden - but the turtles that I see and have seen around Mukalla, are only the 'green' and the 'hawksbill' turtles. I understand too, all five turtle species fall into either the 'endangered' or 'critically endangered' categories. A few kilometers East of Mukalla, in Dees Ash Shargiyyah and Sharma - some of the most important and best turtle nesting beaches in the Arabian Peninsula are found. Socotra Island, another primary nesting ground for the turtles, is not far off in the sea. Yemen's reefs are some of the richest and most diverse in the Indian ocean, and they provide excellent and ample foraging grounds for the turtles.

It's relieving and encouraging to know that soon, Yemen, which already has laws protecting the turtles - has plans to create nature and wildlife reserves; one of which will be the Sharma - Broom turtle nesting grounds. This will ensure that the turtles are more and better protected. But if Yemen wants to protect its turtles better, it not only has to take care of the nesting grounds - it has too, to do all it can to protect the coral reefs. Without the coral reefs for feeding, the turtles can not survive well. And the threat to their existence will only increase. Yemen has lost most of its land wildlife; hopefully, it can and will do all it takes to protect its marine life. All precious. And many, are now more threatened than ever before. None more so, than the sea turtles.

+IOSEATurtles
+AmeInfo
+UNEP
+Conserve Turtles
+Arkive
+Earthdive