Stakeholders met in Cairo to discuss sea turtle mortality and conservation problems in Bardawil lagoon. The Mediterranean semi-enclosed coastal water body in North Sinai is listed among the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance.
The meeting took place on 24 February 2014 at the British Council and was organised by international NGO MEDASSET and the Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) NGO, IUCN's Member. It follows the release of the report entitled 'Egypt's Bardawil Lake: safe haven or deadly trap for sea turtles in the Mediterranean?' published in December 2013 by the two NGOs in collaboration with Dr. M. El-Alwany from the Suez Canal University, local staff of the national fisheries (General Authority for Fish Resources Development), and conservation authorities (Nature Conservation Sector).
SEA TURTLE MORTALITY
Conservationists, researchers and decision makers attended the meeting to discuss the cause and solutions to sea turtle mortality in Bardawil, which was documented in 2 October-3 November 2012. According to the research team 80-100 sea turtle carcasses were found in the one-month period. "The vast majority were loggerheads (Caretta caretta); however, a few green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) were also identified" said Mr. Kostis Grimanis, Director of MEDASSET.
Till now, scientists were aware of sea turtles nesting in low numbers during the summer on the outer sandy Mediterranean shores of Bardawil. In the absence of necropsies and toxicological tests researchers could not safely define why turtles are dying in Bardawil. Natural causes or litter ingestion cannot be ruled out.
"At least five of the freshly dead turtles were intentionally killed, we cannot say much about the rest as they were too decomposed", noted Dr. Mohamed Nada, member of MEDASSET and NCE who participated in the fieldwork. "Interviews with fishermen revealed that there is an overall hostile attitude towards sea turtles, which they attributed to the damage turtles are causing to their fishing gear" said Dr. Nada. "Human consumption of turtle meat was reported in interviews, but it is not widespread and does not appear to be directly linked to the mortality" added Dr. Nada, who has conducted extensive research on this topic.
A number of conservation and management measures to tackle the sea turtle mortality and improve the protection of the wetland were presented and discussed among participants. Several participants mentioned the need for more research and monitoring to take place in the lake. "More research and field surveys can fully document the importance of the wetland as a feeding, wintering and development habitat for sea turtles in the Mediterranean, their interaction with the lake's fisheries, and monitor mortality levels and causes" highlighted Dr. Mostafa Fouda, Vice-president of NCE.
At the root of these problems, researchers identify the problematic environmental and fisheries policies which are currently dealing with marine biodiversity protection and fisheries productivity in isolation of each other and are lacking a coordinated and integrated approach. Some participants supported the need for national declaration of the whole site as a (marine) protected area should also be considered by authorities in consultation with local stakeholders.
The meeting concluded that improved conservation of Bardawil is significant and is a matter of urgency not only in terms of its unique biodiversity, but also in relation to the communities it supports, which currently have very limited livelihood options and depend on the wetland for their subsistence.
Information elaborated from the Press Release distributed by MEDASSET.
For further info: Dr. Mohamed Nada, MEDASSET & Nature Conservation Egypt. Mrs. Liza Boura, MEDASSET. Email: [email protected]