Turtle nesting season starts in Socotra

29-05-2011 10:53
As every year in May, sea turtle nesting season on Socotra´s beaches has started, going on till the end of August. Every night turtle females crawl out of the sea and cross the beach to lay their eggs in the sand. After choosing the right spot, they start to dig a nest with their hind flippers, lay their eggs into it, cover them with sand and crawl back to the sea.  Two months later turtle hatchlings have to dig themselves out of the sand and find their way to the sea, facing hungry crabs, birds and other predators. Each turtle lays up to 115 eggs at the time but only few baby turtles survive and even fewer reach their reproductive age.    These reproduction factors together with excessive exploitation of turtles by humans make the turtle populations worldwide decline. Currently, all the turtle species are considered as endangered.

 

Socotra Archipelago is one of the most important nesting sites of loggerhead turtles in the region but many of them are captured and slaughtered while trying to lay their eggs.   Locals then eat their meat and drink their oil said to have special powers and to cure various diseases. One of the tales tells that “Once upon a time, there was a man who had a problem in his heart, his case was hopeless. That is how doctors diagnosed his disease. As he got upset from his situation, he was trying all what people told him that could reduce his suffering. One day, one of his friends advised him to drink turtle’s oil for one month. Doctors got shocked how turtle’s oil cured him.” There are many tales like this one and many people convinced about the efficiency of turtle meat and oil a treatment.

 

In 1998, the first initiative of monitoring and protecting turtles of Socotra was supported by UNOPS- Socotra biodiversity project in collaboration with the Environment Protection Authority, Socotra and was continued by UNDP- Italian Cooperation-Socotra Conservation and Development Programme from 2003 till 2008. Four species of marine turtles from the waters surrounding the Socotra Archipelago were reported green turtle (chelonian mydas),hawksbill turtle(Eretmochelys imbricate), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and Olive Ridley(Lepidochelys olivacea).  The Abalhan beach, where most of turtles lay their eggs, was declared as a Turtle protected area. Monitoring and night patrolling to protect nesting turtles have been conducted there each nesting season. How does the night patrolling look like?

Each night of the nesting season a team consisting of a marine specialist and members of the local community of the Abalhan Turtle protected Area monitor and register turtles laying their eggs. First, they start with surveying the area looking for turtles, meanwhile, protecting the area from people looking for turtle meat. Once they find turtle tracks in the sand they follow them till they see her. They hide themselves until the turtle starts digging, then they approach her from backside to help her. They count her eggs and once the turtle returns to the sea, they mark the nest in order to find it sixty days later when eggs will be hatched and small turtles need to be protected from crabs and birds to make it safely to the sea. If the nest is too close to the sea and could be damaged by waves or in case of any other risk, they will transfer the eggs to a safer place.   

 Although it is not allowed to slaughter turtles anymore, although many awareness campaigns against turtles killing have been organized around the Archipelago and despite of the night patrols, still many turtle carapaces are found around the island at the end of the nesting season and still many turtle butchers try they luck and penetrate into the 12km long protected area.

Some of them drive their car along the beach in the darkness with very low speed, others come from the seaside by boat; and they navigate very slowly close to the shore. While others, leave their car far away and walk in darkness through the protected area, hiding themselves in bushes.

Each year they invent new tricks on how to get secretly to the protected area and closer to the turtles. While others gave up slaughtering turtles, when they see them crying and defending themselves with all their strength before getting slaughtered.

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