Speedy wins Great Turtle Race

The Great Gulf Turtle Race, which spanned five weeks and four countries across the Gulf region, has come to a close and its winners have been announced by the Emirates Wildlife Society and WWF.

In an attempt to raise awareness and interest about marine turtles and their plight as endangered species, the EWS and WWF launched the Great Gulf Turtle Race which ended recently.

Speedy, a turtle tagged in Iran, earned the title of long distance traveller, clocking in a total of 670km in just 35 days.

Meanwhile the title of most popular turtle has been awarded to Amal, which received 1,844 “cheers” on the www.gulfturtles.com website.

Speedy came second in the popularity stakes with 1,263 votes while Otohime, sponsored by Bridgestone Middle East and Africa, clinched third with 170 votes.

The turtle race plotted the number of kilometres the satellite-tagged turtles in the Gulf swam.

Twenty three Hawksbill turtles entered the race for 2011, competing to become the furthest travelling turtle or the most popular turtle.

Educational material

Visitors to www.gulfturtles.com were able to chart the progress of the turtles as they migrated after nesting on Gulf beaches earlier this year. In addition the website holds a wealth of educational material on the Hawksbill turtles and EWS-WWF’s Marine Turtle Conservation Project.

The Marine Turtle Conservation Project is a three-year programme launched by EWS-WWF in April 2010 to pinpoint the migration patterns and locate feeding grounds in the Gulf of the Hawksbill turtle using satellite tracking technology.

Satellite tracking transmitters were fitted to the top of each turtle’s shell in a painless process and secured using a combination of fibre-glass and resin.

This transmitter sends a signal when the turtle surfaces to breathe, giving the marine conservation team the location of that turtle on a map.

Spanning three years, it is hoped that the outcome of this project will lead to conservation policies and plans to protect areas essential for the turtles’ survival.

Sharing tracking data

The project aims to raise awareness of the needs of these animals at regional levels, identify their foraging grounds and share tracking data with relevant authorities to contribute to the development of a regional marine turtle conservation plan.

In the first year, 20 turtles were tagged and this year 24 turtles have been tagged in the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Iran by the turtle tagging team at EWS-WWF and country partners as part of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project.

Endangered species

Female Hawksbill turtles emerge from the sea to nest every three to four years. During the nesting season, a female may nest up to four times burying more than 100 eggs in each nest.

The temperature of the sand dictates the gender of the hatchlings, so in cooler temperatures, male hatchlings emerge from the nest, while later in the nesting season when the sand is warmer, females emerge.

After nesting, the adult female turtles return to their foraging grounds. Adult males live their entire lives at sea, never emerging from the water except to breathe.

Suffering an 80 per cent global loss of population in just three generations, Hawskbill turtles are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Threats to their habitat through coastal development, accidental catch in fisheries, targeted egg harvesting and climate change severely threaten their chances of survival.

The Marine Turtle Conservation Project, working with its partners region-wide, is working to stem these losses in the GCC region.