UAE Dugongs and sea turtles ‘under threat’

Conservationists have warned that dugongs and sea turtles in the UAE are under threat and called for collaboration to save the population of these endangered species.

Experts from the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) said based on aerial surveys undertaken in 2001 and 2004 in Abu Dhabi waters, the foraging sea turtle population predominantly made up of the two species (hawksbill and green turtles), is estimated to be 5,550 turtles.

The Arabian Gulf and Red Sea host an estimated population of more than 5,000 dugongs, the largest population outside Australia.

About 40 per cent of this population occurs in the waters off the UAE, almost exclusively off the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.

This makes UAE waters particularly significant in terms of global dugong conservation efforts.

The dugong is listed as vulnerable to extinction at the global level whereas the hawksbill turtles are listed as critically endangered and the green turtles as endangered.

Dugong is threatened by gill net fishing, especially drift nets, throughout its distribution range. In the UAE, the dugong mortality due to suffocation in fishing nets is the main reason followed closely by boat hits, the experts said in a recent study.

The study said dugongs and sea turtles in the UAE also face indirect threats in the form of damage to their foraging habitats. In the case of sea turtles, nesting habitats also constitute a threat to the species following the identified threats include gill netting, boating, coastal development (settlement, fencing, sea wall etc.)

Other threats include land filling and dredging, pollution including oil spill, disturbance of nesting sites, debris, movement of man and vehicle on nesting beach, light in and around nesting beach.

“The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has extensive seagrass beds that support a large dugong population. Besides oil-pollution related damages to the seagrass beds, there are several other factors which are responsible for the loss of seagrass in the region. Dredging in and around seagrass meadows, coastal developments and land filling and reclamation activities degrade seagrass meadows,” the study noted.

It said these impacts result in loss of population and species hence must be effectively managed and where necessary, prevented together.

On efforts to help conserve these endangered species, the agency has been undertaking studies on the status and conservation of these species in the UAE waters since 1999.

The results of the studies have also been instrumental in strengthening the country’s regulations on wildlife conservation.

As part of its conservation and management plans for the marine wildlife, namely sea turtles and dugongs, ERWDA developed in early 2002 conservation plans for sea turtles and dugongs respectively. The main components of the two conservation plans were the conservation and protection of habitats and conservation and protection of sea turtle populations and public awareness and education.

For sea turtles, measures to conserve and protect habitats included mapping and prioritising of nesting sites, controls on nesting beach use and protection of foraging habitats. Regulations and guidelines were also developed to protect nesting sea turtles and sea turtles in the marine environments as part of the effort to protect sea turtle populations.

For dugongs, the main components of the conservation plan included regular monitoring of dugong populations, developing and implementing of guidelines for land use in areas of known dugong concentrations, putting in place mechanisms to implement regulations on the protection of species and incorporating oil spill contingency plans specially for dugong habitats.

Source: Khaleej Times