Marine turtle population in India declines

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New Delhi, Aug 21 (UNI) A report prepared for a meeting of 27 nations signatory to an agreement on turtle conservation has noted that the population of the threatened marine species had declined in India.

The meeting started in the Indonesian island of Bali yesterday.

The participating countries belong to the IOSEA (Indian Ocean South-East Asia) region which includes the ranges of six of the world's seven species of marine turtles.

Recently discovery of around 3000 turtle carcasses along the Orissa coast in India attracted worldwide attention and concern.

India is signitory to the Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia, which was concluded under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species in 2001.

Signatories to the agreement committed to putting in place measures to conserve the region's marine turtle populations and their habitats.

The overall report card for the region's marine turtles is mixed, UNEP has reported.

According to the report, South Africa's nesting population of Loggerhead turtles has increased markedly with annual nests increasing from 250 to 1,750 over the past four decades.

However, the Eastern Australian population of Loggerheads is reported to be in serious decline, a situation mirrored in Madagascar.

Green turtles, still very abundant in the Sultanate of Oman, have fallen in number in Indonesia and Philippines due to unsustainable egg collection and poaching.

Olive ridley turtles, which nest in the thousands in India, are reported to be declining. In Thailand, their numbers are already critically low, and are thought to represent only about five percent of historical levels.

Signatories identified natural phenomena, such as predation, as the most common threat to marine turtles, followed closely by incidental capture in coastal fisheries.

Serious threat of egg collection came third in the ranking, identified as a problem at 20 per cent of the sites in 14 countries.

Traditional consumption of meat and eggs still occurs in three-quarters of the Signatory States canvassed.

Attention is being focussed squarely on fishing impacts. Set gill nets are reported by half of the signatories to have serious impacts on turtles. By-catch in shrimp trawls has been identified as a problem, yet less than a third of the members have effective systems in place to address it.

Other harmful illegal fisheries have been documented, including what appears to be a resurgence of destructive fishing methods using dynamite and poison.

Coastal development, including negative consequences of tourism, is also under the spotlight.

Dr Jack Frazier, Chairman of the programme's Advisory Committee, said, ''Coastal development - especially for tourist facilities - has been proceeding very fast in much of the Indian Ocean region. The chances for negative impacts on nesting beaches, as well as on inshore foraging and resting areas for turtles have increased, and are continuing to increase, dramatically.'' Official delegations from more than 30 countries are attending the Bali conference.

The meeting will review the implementation of an ambitious conservation and management plan containing 24 programme areas.

Particular attention will be given to coastal development issues and fisheries interactions with marine turtles with mega-projects in India and the tuna longline industry in Indonesia serving as case studies.

The meeting will also discuss the possible creation of a network of critical sites for marine turtles.

New tools for exchanging information and monitoring marine turtle numbers, such as the recently upgraded IOSEA Online Reporting Facility will be introduced.

UNI NAZ RSA HT1500

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