The project entailed an evaluation of the status of turtles during 2005 in the territorial waters of the State of Qatar and the development of framework for their protection against extinction and the identification of the species in Qatar waters and on its beaches. In particular the project aimed to identify the key nesting and foraging sites for turtles in Qatar, determine rates of population increase and/or decrease, determine mortality rates and origins, determine egg productivity and survival, and investigate the potential of hatcheries and nature reserves as conservation tools.
The Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves in the State of Qatar (now the Ministry of Environment) embarked on this project to determine the Status of Sea Turtles in Qatar during 2004-2005 with a view to implementing conservation measures nationwide. The project had several components, starting with training and capacity building at the local level, followed by field research, threats and mitigation assessments, and conclusive reporting and future planning.
The fieldwork phase of this project collected data which formed the basis for nesting trend / occurrence assessments; a communications officer was appointed to react to turtle stranding and mortality reports; training was conducted for various agencies, companies and industries which resulted in a comprehensive overview of turtle activity in the State of Qatar; and, linkages with SCENR and industry were strengthened to streamline operations during the project. During the surveys, a wide range of data was collected on the nesting beach which provided a basis for estimating population sizes, reproductive output and success, threats, and conservation needs. Having an understanding of reproduction and nest biology will be a valuable tool for conservation and management of sea turtle stocks in Qatar. Without this knowledge, well intentioned but ignorant conservation efforts are likely to be detrimental to sea turtles. Surveys were timed so that they started at or near the beginning of the nesting season, and this was the main reason behind surveys in Qatar in mid-April. Because turtles are generally nocturnal, beach surveys were carried out at night, starting from shortly after sunset until no further turtles are encountered on the beach. Periodic but less frequent surveys were also be carried out during the day to detect daytime nesting.
The main species nesting in Qatar is the Hawksbill turtle. Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are distributed throughout the tropics and inhabit coral reefs where they feed on certain invertebrates, sponges in particular. Due to overexploitation primarily for its carapace shell, which is crafted into a number of artifacts, the hawksbill is listed as Critically Endangered in the Red List book of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Green turtles Chelonia mydas were also found in Qatar waters as foraging animals, feeding on Qatar’s extensive seagrass beds and to a lesser degree on invertebrates associate with coral reefs. The turtle populations in Qatar are under increasing pressure from industrial and commercial development, which has reduced the available foraging and nesting habitat.
Several key life stages were affected by a number of natural, anthropogenic and physical threats, causing varying degrees of mortality: eggs were destroyed by vehicles on the beach, predation and harvesting and beach erosion; the survival of hatchlings was affected by lights, litter and wheel tracks and predation; juvenile turtles were killed by fishing activities, pollution events or sudden changes in temperature; and adult turtles were affected by fishing, dredging, shipping, predation or harvesting.
This project was funded by the Supreme Council for Environment and Nature Reserves, State of Qatar.