‘Protected’ species

29 July 2014 12:52

 Visitors to a Limassol beach found the body of a female loggerhead sea turtle cut down in her prime after ingesting a plastic bag.
Speaking to The Cyprus Daily on Monday, Scout leader Irene Sabbagha, who visited the scene, confirmed the body of the 50-year-old turtle, also known as a Caretta caretta, had been found at Malindi beach, Limassol on Saturday.
“She must have been coming ashore to lay her eggs,” Sabbagha said, noting loggerhead turtles began laying at the age of 25 and usually lived as long as 100 years.
“They eat plankton and can mistake plastic bags for it,” she added, pointing out the importance of human visitors to the beach properly disposing of their litter before leaving.
According to Sabbagha, significant dangers to adult turtles include their ingesting litter such as plastic bags as well as being, intentionally or unintentionally, killed by fishermen.
She said organisations such as Episkopi Turtlewatch’s work included attempting to protect nests and hatchlings, in peril from foxes, dogs and vehicles such as beach buggies.
Sabbagha said turtles would return to where they hatched to lay their own eggs 25 years after being born.
Coastlines would have changed dramatically in that time and, she said, turtles sometimes returned to the sea, losing their eggs in the waters, if they did not feel comfortable laying them on a busy beach.
Visit http://www.episkopiturtlewatch.com for more information on the efforts of Episkopi Turtlewatch.
Loggerheads are considered an endangered species and are protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

via http://incyprus.philenews.com/en-gb/Top-Stories-News/4342/42978/protected-species

Major turtle nesting beaches protected in 1 of the UK’s far flung overseas territories

4 hours ago
Major turtle nesting beaches protected in 1 of the UK's far flung overseas territories

The number of green turtles nesting at the remote South Atlantic outpost has increased by more than 500 per cent since records began in the 1970s. As many as 24,000 nests are now estimated to be laid on the Island’s main beaches every year,  making it the second largest nesting colony for this species in the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Sam Weber
But on the remote UK overseas territory of Ascension Island, one of the world’s largest green turtle populations is undergoing something of a renaissance.Writing in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, scientists from the University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government Conservation Department report that the number of nesting at the remote South Atlantic outpost has increased by more than 500 per cent since records began in the 1970s. As many as 24,000 nests are now estimated to be laid on the Island’s main beaches every year, making it the second largest nesting colony for this species in the Atlantic Ocean.Lead author, Dr Sam Weber, said: “The increase has been dramatic. Whereas in the 1970s and 80’s you would have been lucky to find 30 turtles on the Island’s main nesting beach on any night, in 2013 we had more than 400 females nesting in a single evening”.The scientists’ report comes as Ascension Island Government announces that it is committing a fifth of the territory’s land area to biodiversity conservation. New legislation enacted by the Island’s Governor, Mark Capes, on the 28th of July creates seven new nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries that include the Island’s three main turtle nesting beaches, along with globally-important seabird colonies that are home to more than 800,000 nesting seabirds.

The legislation was developed during a two year project run by Ascension Island Government and the University of Exeter to develop a national biodiversity action plan for the territory.

Major turtle nesting beaches protected in 1 of the UK's far flung overseas territories

Whereas in the 1970s and 80’s you would have been lucky to find 30 turtles on the Island’s main nesting beach on any night, in 2013 there were more than 400 females nesting in a single evening. Credit: Sam Weber

Dr Nicola Weber, Ascension Island Government’s Head of Conservation, said: “The decision to give legal protection to our most iconic wildlife sites follows extensive public consultation and has received a high level of support from across of the community. It speaks volumes as to how seriously environmental stewardship is currently taken on the Island”.

Dr Annette Broderick, who is leading the project for the University of Exeter, added: “I am delighted that these globally important nesting sites have been afforded protection. This has been a goal for many years and has been achieved as a result of the dedication of the AI Government team who have been working towards this for several years.”

To trace the origins of the current turtle boom you need to go back to before the Second World War. Dr Broderick, who has been researching sea turtles on Ascension Island for the past 15 years and led the recent study, said: “Green turtles were an important source of food for those on the island and passing ships would take live turtles onboard to ensure fresh meat for their voyage. Ships returning to the UK would stock up with turtles for the Lords of the Admiralty, who had a penchant for turtle soup. Records show a dramatic decline in the number of turtles harvested each year as fewer and fewer came to nest and since the 1950s no have been harvested. We are now seeing the population bounce back, although our models suggest we have not yet reached pre-harvest levels.”

Major turtle nesting beaches protected in 1 of the UK's far flung overseas territories

Green turtle at sunset. Credit: Sam Weber

Turtles were legally protected on Ascension Island in 1944 and the population has never looked back. “Because take so long to reach breeding age, we are only now beginning to see the results of conservation measures introduced decades ago”, says Dr Weber. “It just goes to show how populations of large, marine animals can recover from human exploitation if we protect them over long enough periods.”

via http://phys.org/news/2014-07-major-turtle-beaches-uk-flung.html

Rehabilitated turtles released


Two loggerhead turtles were this morning released into the sea after nine months in rehabilitation at the San Luċjan Centre in Marsaxlokk.

The turtles – Monster and Neil – were nursed back to health by volunteers from Nature Trust’s Wildlife Rescue Team.

Monster, a 47kg turtle, had been brought in with a hook in the mouth and a nylon fishing line in its intestines. As the hook had been in the month for a long time an abscess had developed round the wound. It took almost eight months for the nylon line to be removed.

Neil, an eight year old turtle, was brought in by a fisherman who found it near Hurds Bank all covered in oil and full of barnacles indicating it has been floating and not eating for a long time.

Neil spent seven months under rehabilitation after being de-oiled and cleaned and placed on vitamins to regain the necessary strength

The release was held at 8.30am from the private beach of the Westin Dragonara Resort in St Julians.

Injured turtles or dolphins spotted at sea should be reported to Mepa on 9921 0404 or Nature Trust Malta Wildlife Rescue Team on 9999 9505.

via http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140729/local/rehabilitated-turtles-released.529778

Dalton State Protects, Breeds Endangered Turtles

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brandy Riekert, a biology major at Dalton State, checks on Gaga, a yellow box turtle in the College’s Turtle Assurance Colony.
Brandy Riekert, a biology major at Dalton State, checks on Gaga, a yellow box turtle in the College’s Turtle Assurance Colony.

Dalton State couple has a new couple, a male and female spiny turtle – known as the Heosemys spinosa in scientific communities – which is an endangered species. They live in the Dalton State College Turtle Assurance Colony. The colony is part of the international Turtle Survival Alliance, which is a conservation group formed in response to the disappearance of turtles in Asia where they are sought for food.

Dalton State is now home to four endangered species of turtles where they are monitored, fed and encouraged to breed. The project began in May and is spearheaded by Chris Manis and Dr. John Lugthart.

The work being done at Dalton State could help ensure the survival of several species.

“We’re dealing with species on the brink of extinction,” Dr. Lugthart said. “It’s really cool to have a part in the project.”

The turtles are harvested at such a high rate in Asian countries, especially China, the species cannot keep up with the demand. Many species of turtles need several years to reach sexual maturity, and the high harvest rates were not giving the species time to reach that point. Some species don’t even mate and lay eggs every year, and they only lay one or two eggs at a time.

“Anywhere in China, these turtles a decade ago, were numerous,” Mr. Manis said. “You could find them in markets, pet stores. There are about eight to 10 years between field studies. When they went back to conduct field surveys, they couldn’t find these turtles anymore. They were common animals 15 years ago… They’re not sustainable anymore.”

The project is longterm. The turtles won’t be re-released into the wild anytime soon, according to Mr. Manis. “We’re keeping these guys going in captivity then we’ll release them when it’s safe to do so,” he said. “We can’t even reintroduce them yet if we had enough…. None are safe in China. The rarer the turtle, the more they want them.”

Before the turtles can be released into the area, the culture has to change, Mr. Manis said.  But first, the turtles have to be saved.

Setting the mood

Setting a mood and environment to encourage breeding isn’t necessarily easy. Some breeds, such as the yellow-margined box turtle, have been studied more than others. Mating habits of the yellow-margined box turtle are more well known, and they have been bred successfully in captivity more than some of the other species at the College.

The yellow-margined box turtle is similar to box turtles in this area, but they prefer a more aquatic area. They have done well in captivity over the last several years, Manis said. He expects them to do well at the College.

The turtles reach sexual maturity based on size. For males, it’s usually around 6 years old, and for females, around 8 years old. All the yellow-margined box turtles at the College are less than 2 years old, but Manis hopes with regular feedings and a good diet, they’ll reach sexual maturity faster than if they were in the wild.

Breeding the box turtles should be relatively easy, Manis said.

“We’re trying to figure out the others,” he said.

Part of the challenge with the spiny turtles isn’t just finding out how to encourage mating, but helping the egg survive so that it can hatch. They don’t have a great success rate breeding in captivity, but right now, that’s the species’ only chance of survival.

Each day Manis, Lugthart and student assistant Brandy Riekert take turns checking on the turtles, feeding them, cleaning out their habitats, and encouraging mating.

“They’re notoriously difficult to breed in captivity,” said Riekert, a biology student at the college who is expected to graduate in the spring. “We spray water on them to encourage mating.”

Less is understood about the spiny turtles and their habits. Breeding is prompted by the change in the season. The spiny turtles prefer a temperate and cooler climate, Manis said. They also breed in a rainier season. So breeding is encouraged by mimicking that seasonal change, hence the showers.

Once mating has been successful, the next challenge is getting an egg to survive during the incubation period – more than 100 days, Manis said.

One egg had been laid, but it didn’t develop properly and died, he said. There is one incubating currently, and he said so far, it is developing properly.

The Beal’s-eyed turtle, which Manis also has in the lab, is unlike many other species because it prefers to lay its eggs when the temperature is still cooler out. Many species lay eggs when it’s warmer.

The Tennessee Aquarium, in Chattanooga, Tenn., has had success breeding the Beal’s eyed, Manis said, and one of the turtles from the aquarium’s colony is on “breeding loan” to the college.

There is some question as to whether the sex of the turtle is determined by chromosomes or by temperature. With some species males are produced when the eggs are kept at a cooler temperature and females at a warmer temperature. Manis is hoping to have the answer to that question as the research in the colony continues.

Lugthart believes housing the colony on campus will give students and faculty numerous opportunities for research.

“There’s a lot of longterm potential,” he said. “We can involve students and faculty, and there’s potential for more than just caring for and breeding the turtles. It’s generating a lot of enthusiasm among students and faculty. They’re charismatic.” 

Emerging personalities

One of the female box turtles perches high on her log, looking at everything around her. She bobs her head up and down and turns to the side to get a better look at everyone who walks by.

So those working in the lab affectionately call her “Gaga” – named for diva pop star Lady Gaga.

“Gaga always loves the spotlight,” Riekert said. “She’s a proud one. It’s so funny how they’re so different. One is shy. I really never gave it a whole lot of thought. I’m so surprised they have unique personalities.”

Lugthart, who calls himself a “spineless guy” for his interest in invertebrate biology, said he didn’t realize the turtles would have distinct personalities either.

“I’ve never reared turtles before,” he said. “It’s been fun to get to know more about them. I do what I can to facilitate this project. Caring for an animal is different from my experience.”

Riekert said she’s glad she is able to work in the lab.

“It has been an education experience,” she said. “I’m proud of it. When I started, it was ‘I’m going to work in the lab.’ Now it’s ‘my lab.’ I’ve taken a lot of personal ownership.” 

The birth of the colony

Manis has worked with turtles for many years. So it was natural for him to move toward an assurance colony.

Manis and Lugthart also work together on the Lakeshore Park lake and wetland project in Dalton. The team spends two weeks each summer capturing turtles, collecting data, and releasing them back into the habitat. The project is designed to eventually restore the lake and wetland to its natural state. Learning about the turtles will help further that effort.

“I have an extreme passion for these animals,” Manis said. “My obsession hooked Dr. Lugthart.”

The project at Lakeshore is about researching what is already there and preserving it. The colony at the College is about species conservation.

But the Lakeshore project fueled interest in the conservation project. Manis said most conservation efforts worldwide go through the Alliance so that’s where he turned. The Tennessee Aquarium, where Manis served an internship is also a member of the Alliance and has been a resource for Manis as he begins the colony in Dalton.

Manis began collecting turtles, choosing which species to breed, researching them and setting up the lab with the help of Lugthart and Riekert just as the new Peeples Hall opened on Dalton State’s campus.

“It’s worked out well with the new building and the new labs, being able to jump right in,” Lugthart said.

Chris Manis holds one of Dalton State’s spiny turtles in the College’s Turtle Assurance Colony.
Chris Manis holds one of Dalton State’s spiny turtles in the College’s Turtle Assurance Colony.
– Photo2 by Mary Watson Wheeler

Connecticut man accused of shooting pet turtle

STONINGTON, Conn. – (AP) — Authorities say a Connecticut man shot to death his girlfriend’s pet turtle.

Sgt. Louis Diamanti, Stonington’s animal control officer, says 31-year-old Steven Richard used a BB gun rifle to shoot the turtle in the head Friday night outside a home.

Police had responded after a neighbor reported an argument between Richard and the woman who lives in the house. They discovered the dead turtle in the yard.

Police say Richard did not explain why he shot the pet. A phone listed for Richard had been disconnected Monday. He was released on a promise to appear Aug. 4 in court on a charge of cruelty to animals.

Diamanti says he does not know what type of turtle it was.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

via http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/man-charged-with-shooting-pet-turtle-1.8905191

National Seashore to launch teen sea turtle program

Through a new science-based program funded by the National Park Foundation teens will be able to explore biology and ecology by working with endangered sea turtle conservation at the National Seashore.

Area students and their teachers will be given the unique opportunity this year to conduct sea turtle research and monitoring at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, thanks to new in-service program called Turtle T.H.I.S.

The acronym stands for “Teens Helping the Seashore” and is being made possible through an $18,000 Park Stewards grant from the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks.

The seashore is one of 28 national parks — out of 401 parks in the system — to be selected for the grant sponsored by University of Phoenix and Subaru of America.

“With our Park Stewards program, teachers and students are able to explore science, nature, sustainability and more through America’s largest living classrooms—our national parks,” said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.

Susan Teel, the seashore’s chief of resource education, said $10,000 will be used to purchase equipment and supplies for the program.

“Our lead teacher, Matt MacGregor, will get $4,000 to develop the curriculum, and two high school students will be paid $2,000 each to work with us next summer,” she said. “The grant does not cover the whole cost of the equipment or for the program. Gulf Islands will purchase some light meters, transect tapes. We already have some hand held GPS units and some camping supplies. The National Park Service contributed funds for college-age interns to assist in development and implementation of the program.”

This program will launch this school year as a pilot and will include an overnight program for middle school students from March through May. Students interested in the program should ask their teachers about signing their class up for the program, Teel said

Students will be exposed to and participate in an active scientific study, and they will conduct sea turtle nest surveys and relocate any nests they find below the high-tide line. They will collect ambient light data using specially made light meters, and they will learn about sea turtles, night skies and light pollution. They also will spend the night sleeping on the beach under the stars, Teel said.

“We are excited to provide teens the opportunity to work with sea turtles and share their knowledge with younger students,” seashore Superintendent Dan Brown said. “Schools, teachers, and the community will participate in this study and deepen their appreciation of the natural resources in their national seashore.”

Emma Colton, 17, who is working for the seashore’s Youth Conservation Program this summer, said she would love to become more involved with the park’s ecological and biological programs.

“I’ve never worked with the sea turtles, but I would live to do that,” said Emma, who attends Gulf Breeze High. “That would be really cool.”

Learn more

• To find out more about the Gulf Islands National Seashore program, call Susan Teel at 934-2618.

• For more information on the National Park Foundation, visit http://www.nationalparks.org.

Greens put officials on the spot over turtle beach bar

Greens put officials on the spot over turtle beach bar
Beach bar at Asprokremmos By Bejay Browne

A CONTROVERSIAL NEW BEACH bar situated in an old building overlooking a turtle laying beach in Paphos will have to cease operation as the structure almost certainly doesn’t have planning permission, said local officials.

A spokesman for the Paphos district office said he has visited the beach bar just above Asprokremmos beach and near the Anassa hotel, following complaints that the bar was endangering the nesting sites of endangered turtles.

“The building is an old structure built about 30 years or so ago and we’re 99 per cent sure it doesn’t have a building permit,” said the official who did not want to be named.

The bar, which has stood empty for many years, re-opened under new ownership this season.

The official said that the district office’s standard procedure would now be followed and the owner and manager of the venture would be sent a letter requesting that they stop operating a beach bar out of the premises. If they fail to do so, legal action will be taken.

“As this is on private land, we can’t really do anything else. If it was on government land we would have the authority to demolish the building.”

However, he said that the facility does have a licence to operate as an organised beach, providing sun beds and umbrellas and is doing so legally.

“We found 80 sun beds and 40 umbrellas on the beach as allowed; the permit for this was issued by the local community council.”

The Paphos official noted that usual procedure sees various state departments decide which areas in Cyprus will be designated as suitable as organised beaches. These are then assigned and published in government papers. This was the case with Asprokremmos beach, he said.

Previously, the community leader of Neo Chorio, Andreas Christodoulou confirmed that the facility has a licence to operate as an organised beach, providing sunbeds and umbrellas, but he also insisted it had a licence to operate as a café as well, selling soft drinks and snacks, but no alcohol.

But Green party MP, George Perdikis, has condemned the entire operation, arguing that their investigations failed to turn up such a licence and has written an official letter to the minister of the environment and the House of Representatives requesting the beach bar be shut down. He stressed that he is concerned that the light and noise emitted from the bar is having a disastrous effect on the turtles and their eggs.

Beach is a nesting site for endangered turtles

The district office official said that during his visit he didn’t observe any cages which are used to cover turtle’s nests and saw no evidence of turtles at the beach at all.

“Perhaps they are very hard to see,” he said.

The Green party countered that 25 nests have been observed in the area so far, with more turtles choosing to lay their eggs further round the coast at Lara bay, as they are being put off by the noise and activity at Asprokremmos beach.

The district office local official said his office had received a number of complaints about high noise levels, but added this had not been apparent when he visited the area.

Andreas Constantinou, district secretary of the Paphos Greens, said it was time that Cyprus took issues of conservation seriously and placed greater value on the environment instead of profit and greed.

“I have spoken to the environmental committee in Europe about this situation and they told me that Cyprus is obliged to officially protect the bio-diversity in Cyprus. Clearly we aren’t doing that.”

He said that according to the EU, during the periods of turtle hatching, nothing must be allowed to stay on the beach overnight.

“This means everything must be taken away each and every night, including sun beds and umbrellas.”
Constantinou added that authorities which he accused of trying to avoid addressing serious concerns raised over the beach bar would now have to do so as an official complaint has been lodged by the Greens.

The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) and their breeding grounds have been protected by law since 1971.

They are both endangered species. Green turtles now nest on the west coast beaches of Lara and Toxeftra and on a few beaches on the north coast. Some Loggerheads also nest in these areas, but their main nesting beaches are in the Polis and Limni area in Chrysochou bay. The turtle breeding season in Cyprus gets underway in late May and finishes at the end of August

Most of the Akamas Peninsula, where Asprokremmos beach is located, is in the Natura 2000 network, an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. If beaches not within the Natura network are found to have turtle nests they are also protected.

via http://cyprus-mail.com/2014/07/27/greens-put-officials-on-the-spot-over-turtle-beach-bar/

175 turtles recovered in Lucknow, released in Ganga

By TNN | 27 Jul, 2014, 12.05PM IST
175 turtles recovered in Lucknow, released in Ganga
VARANASI: In a joint operation by police and forest department, 175 turtles weighing over 15 quintals, were seized near Mohansarai bypass in Rohania area on Saturday.
The turtles were being smuggled to West Bengal for being sold in international market. The smugglers managed to escape. The police seized the vehicle, in which turtles were being transported. The forest department released the turtles in Ganga at Rajghat.
The police tried to stop a vehicle crossing through the bypass. In an attempt to evade police, the driver lost control and the vehicle stopped after hitting the road divider. Two smugglers, including the driver, fled from the scene leaving the vehicle (No UP 33 Q 3435) abandoned.
The recovered turtles, 5 to 50 kg in weight, were packed in bags. The police found a driving licence of a person identified as Mathura of Rae Bareli. It was suspected that the turtles were being transported from Rae Bareli.
The seized turtles were handed over to the forest department for releasing them into Ganga. The recovered turtles belonged to Indian soft shell and Indian tent turtle species.
Smuggling of turtle through Varanasi is common. About 3000 turtles recovered from smugglers were released into Ganga in last two years. According to report of wildlife trade monitoring network, Varanasi is one of the places being increasingly used for smuggling of tortoises and freshwater turtles. The final destination for these turtles, smuggled via Bangkok, is Hong Kong.

Filipino smugglers try to sneak in during curfew

Published: Sunday July 27, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM

KOTA KINABALU: Despite the dusk-to-dawn sea curfew in Sabah’s east coast, smugglers are not letting up as they attempt to sneak past security forces during the restricted hours.

Two suspected turtle egg smugglers from southern Philippines abandoned their boats and 8,500 turtle eggs when marine police gave chase in waters off Nunuyan Island in Sandakan at about 4am on Friday.

Sabah Marine Police deputy commander Supt Rosman Ismail said yesterday the suspected smugglers jumped into the sea and fled towards a village after their pump boats ran aground in shallow waters following a 45-minute pursuit.

“Our men managed to recover the boats and the turtle eggs,” he said, adding that they were still looking for the two men on Nunuyan Island.

He said police believed the eggs collected from islands in southern Philippines were being smuggled into Sandakan for sale at markets in the district. The turtle eggs seized had a street value of about RM12,500.

The collection and trading of turtle eggs is banned in both the Philippines and Malaysia as part of international conservation efforts to save the endangered sea turtles.

Supt Rosman said they had handed over the turtle eggs to the Wildlife Department in Sandakan for further action under the Wildlife Conservation Ordinan­ce.

via http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/07/27/Filipino-smugglers-try-to-sneak-in-during-curfew/

“It’s always the turtles that steal the show”

“It’s always the turtles that steal the show”
1:42 AM 27 July 2014

       —Jill Atkinson, conservationist

By Anand Holla

AT HOME WITH THE ANIMALS: As a teenager with parents living in Africa, Jill Atkinson learnt not to scream and run away but to look closer and ask questions, about everything, from interesting plants to beetles to snakes to the angry-looking rhino.

On a pleasant Saturday morning in March of 2011, Jill Atkinson would be offered a fortuitous chance to nurture a lifelong friendship with one of the gentlest reptiles on the planet.

For a clean-up drive of turtle nesting beaches at Ras Laffan Industrial City (RLIC), organised by Qatar Petroleum officials, the teacher of Geography and Travel and Tourism at Al Khor International School (AKIS) was asked to supervise her students.

“Soon after, a group of teachers including myself, were invited to the beach to meet Malaysia-based Dr Nick Pilcher of the Marine Research Foundation who was working on the WWF-Qatar University Environmental Studies Centre-Ras Gas turtle conservation project here,” Atkinson says, and recalls, “We spent the evening learning how to patrol the beach for nesting turtles and asking lots of questions until, finally, a turtle arrived.”

After measuring it, the team spent hours fitting it with a satellite transmitter.

“At dawn, when the turtle was released back into the sea, I felt like I had discovered a new passion,” says the British expat, who has been a Geography teacher for more than 20 years, both in the UK and abroad, “After this day, I took every opportunity to spend my evenings and nights on Fuwairit beach, pining for a glimpse of another nesting turtle.”

Next, Atkinson roped in her friends and made new ones with the AKIS staff and the Turtle Conservation Project staff, getting everyone who mirrored her passion to the beach. “Many would see one turtle and return home happy. For me though, one has never been enough. That’s what kept me going back,” says Atkinson.

After teaching at AKIS for four years and also becoming one of Qatar’s most proactive turtle conservators, Atkinson is now steeped in the frenzy of packing her bags as she leaves the country later this week.  “I am moving on to teach in an international school in Indonesia,” she says, smiling.

Despite her far-reaching renown in the turtle-watching community, Atkinson prefers to play herself down. “I don’t want the limelight as it is always the turtles that steal the show for me,” she says.

The modesty can perhaps be linked to her always having been, in more ways than one, down to earth. “As a child, I was taught to value nature. Our home was always full of animals; dogs, mice, gerbils, tadpoles, and so on. As a teenager with parents living in Africa, I learnt not to scream and run away but to look closer and ask questions, about everything, from interesting plants to beetles to snakes to the angry-looking rhino,” she says.

As she spent many hours in Nairobi National Park observing the wildlife, Atkinson’s respect for nature and understanding of the conflicts created by interactions with humans grew. “Initially, I was more interested in the human aspects of development. However, it has always seemed obvious to me that the development of a country cannot be sustainable without understanding its natural environment,” she says.

During her first stint in Doha — as a teacher at Qatar International School in 2003 before returning to England — Atkinson volunteered with Qatar Animal Welfare Society and pursued her interest in yoga. Once she returned to Qatar in 2010, she was drawn into cat rescue and re-homing in Al Khor before the turtles bowled her over.

“Turtles have been around in Earth’s oceans since the time of the dinosaurs. They are survivors. They have adapted and thrived. It is so easy to not know what is going on in our oceans and yet they are so vital to all life on Earth. Turtles play a vital role in the ecosystems in our oceans. Hawksbill turtles are the only species that nest on Qatar’s beaches and they are listed as ‘critically endangered’ worldwide,” says Atkinson.

Understanding these fantastic creatures will help the youth of Qatar to make the connections, she feels. “The youth can then see that our actions have serious effects, on climate change, on pollution in the oceans, on over-fishing,” she points out. Fortunately, Qatar has been kind to turtles. During the nesting season, researchers from Environmental Studies Center (ESC) patrol Fuwairit beach, looking for female turtles throughout the night.

“Once spotted, she is monitored as she digs her nest and lays her eggs. She then heads back into the sea, but the tags fitted on her allow the researchers to identify her when she returns,” Atkinson shares.

Some turtles are fitted with satellite transmitters so as to track their movements when they return to the sea. “Once a female turtle leaves her nest, researchers relocate the eggs to a new, man-made nest in a beach area safe from flooding, human interference and wild predators,” she says.

As for the hatching season, which ended only a few days ago with much fanfare among turtle watchers here at Fuwairit, the nests are regularly checked and a ‘due date’ is calculated.

“The nests can take up to 60 days to incubate. However, they take less time as it gets hotter and like with many births, it is difficult to predict the exact date the hatchlings will be ready to leave the nest,” says Atkinson.

When the nest shows signs of movement, the ESC staff gently checks if the hatchlings are ready. “The baby turtles are then counted and a sample are weighed and measured before they face the crowds and the cameras that await them,” Atkinson says.

Once the turtle watchers get an eyeful of the hatchlings’ adorable baby steps and kids get to even hold them and release them into the shore, the little folks waddle their way into the sea and embrace life in the face of lashing waves. For Atkinson, it has been a wonderful experience to interact with other turtle-lovers who drop by to witness this phenomenon. “It is always a delight to see a smile on someone’s face when they see a tiny Hawksbill hatchling for the first time and watch it swim off into the waves,” Atkinson says.

“The hardest task though is to stop people from using flash on their cameras, and to keep the people back once the hatchlings are released as they are so easy to tread on,” she points out.

For four years, students from AKIS have participated in several clean-ups, both at RLIC and Fuwairit beach, as well as witnessing turtle nesting-hatching events. And the students get cross-references on it in their classes too since Atkinson’s experiences at Fuwairit seep into her teaching.

“In Geography, we study the conflicts that arise from the pressures of development on coastal areas, the sustainable management of areas of biodiversity and we look at the pressures tourism puts on the natural environment. In my Year Seven classes, for instance, we studied the local ecosystems, including the part played by the Hawksbill turtles in Qatar,” she says.

Last year, while taking her students to the beach to see the turtles, Atkinson found herself playing a more formal role in organising their activities. “This, in turn, led me to answer other turtle watchers’ questions and help out when other school groups visited. This year, after having lengthy discussions with Shafeeq Hamza from ESC and seeing the increase in visitors to the beach during hatching, I took on more of a public relations role and put myself out there to answer people’s questions about turtles, and ensure everybody got a chance to see hatchlings up close,” she says.

In Qatar, Hawksbill turtles nest on the beaches of RLIC, Fuwairit and the surrounding areas, Umm Tays and Halul Island. While RLIC and Halul aren’t open to public, Fuwairit being a free-for-all has full-time monitoring on it.

“There are multiple concerns at Fuwairit. The first is the use of cars on the beach during the off season. This leads to the sand compacting, making it difficult for the turtles to dig their nests to the required depth, leading to a loss of eggs,” Atkinson points out.

Other concerns include the beach being used for leisure activities, particularly on Fridays, contributing to huge quantities of charcoal and litter being left to degrade the sand that is most vital to the turtles.

While it would be hard to make up for Atkinson’s absence, turtle conservators will haul in more volunteers for the nesting-hatching season next year. As for Atkinson, among some of her fondest memories in Qatar are seeing “one of these incredible sea turtles” coming to nest and the joy she feels when they head back into the sea, “ready to continue their normal yet extraordinary lives.”

Atkinson says, “Nothing makes my heart sing like the first sight of a tiny little head poking through the sand, soon joined by many others, as these fragile, precious hatchlings brave the waves and head off into the big blue sea. Research is beginning to show that Qatar’s Hawksbills are unique even amongst Hawksbill turtles worldwide. They certainly hold a key to our understanding of our planet and to a sustainable future for Qatar.”

via http://www.gulf-times.com/culture/238/details/402007/%E2%80%9Cit%E2%80%99s-always-the-turtles-that-steal-the-show%E2%80%9D