Save the turtles. Qatar University begins annual monitoring of rare green and hawksbill turtle nesting

    14 May 2021

    The Environmental Science Center (ESC) at Qatar University (QU) has started the annual season to monitor the nesting of rare and endangered sea turtles for the 2021 season on the country’s coasts and islands of Qatar, The Gulf Times reports.

    University provides the initiative in co-operation with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment. It was funded by Qatar Petroleum, within the framework of the marine turtle protection project launched 19 years ago.

    The sea turtle nesting season usually begins on April 1. In this period turtles begin to lay their eggs on the northern shores of Qatar. The quantity of eggs is estimated between 75 to 100 eggs per nest.

    Sea turtles are a component of the rich ecosystem of the country. These animals play an important part in the ecological balance. Their protection supports biodiversity in the marine and coastal environments.

    Once a turtle lays eggs on a coastal beach, a team from QU-ESC collects and transfers them either to Fuwairit or Ras Laffan reserves. The eggs are left in their natural nests on Qatari islands such as Umm Tais Island, Ras Rakan Island, Shrao’s Island and Halul Island. There the number of visitors is less compared to the coastal beaches.

    QU-ESC has over the past 19 years carried out many studies, related to turtles and their nesting areas, in the form of annual reports or scientific research published in international scientific journal.

    A recent study is related to hawksbill turtles and the effect of climate change. The rise in temperatures on the processes of hatching and gender since the high temperature of the nests leads to an increase in the number of males and a decrease in the number of females.

    Another study, which tracked turtles in the territorial waters of Qatar and the Gulf, involved placing tracking devices to know their areas of concentration and feeding until they return again in other seasons to the Qatari beaches.

    QU-ESC director Dr Hamad al-Saad al-Kuwari said that the data and the experience of scientific and technical researchers acquired over the past two decades, have contributed immensely in enriching the knowledge about the dangers that turtles face in the Gulf and the world.

    The in-depth study of marine turtles provide a better understanding on the importance of management, protection and periodic control measures. Scientists are developing improvements in the health of the ecosystem that could contribute to the restoration of turtle populations.

    Dr al-Kuwari pointed out that the information currently available indicates that sea turtles play an important role in the marine ecosystem. For example, green turtles contribute to ecological balance through their exploitation of seaweeds as food, and hawksbill turtles support coral reefs by feeding on some invertebrate organisms.

    This helps to achieve a balance between food networks or chains and facilitate the natural nutrient cycle in the marine environment. Even the shells of turtle eggs after the hatching season is one of the most important natural nutrients for the soil, scientist underlined.

    The official indicated that turtles have an important role in providing suitable housing for the diverse marine organisms in the seagrass and coral reef environment. In-depth and continuous studies will reveal many of the roles of turtles in protecting the environment and maintaining the ecological balance, Dr al-Kuwari added.

    With funding from Qatar Petroleum, The ESC at Qatar University is currently implementing the Qatar Turtle Project to protect Qatar’s hawksbill turtles. This project is one of the top-priority projects for the two institutions towards preserving Qatar’s wildlife and a commitment to nature.

    Since 2002, QP and QU have been studying hawksbill turtles in the Qatari coasts and working to restore these turtle populations and their habitat based on the best scientific evidence.

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