KARACHI, Sept 18: As the sun starts to set the city beachgoers begin collecting their goods to return to their homes but as soon as the darkness envelopes the atmosphere some of the marine creatures start coming out of their watery abode on to the sea shore to perform one of the most important part of their life cycle that is crucial for their survival as well.
The creatures are female green turtles ? an species that is facing extinction threat and is internationally protected ? that come out of the sea on to the city?s sandy beaches ? Sandspit and Hawkesbay ? which are among the few tropical beaches around the globe where the marine turtles visit for nesting, to lay their eggs and their peak season starts in August/September and continues till November/December when the weather gets chillier and the activity stops.
Weighing between 200 and 500 pounds, the mother green turtle comes out of the sea and dragging itself above the high-tide mark on the shore digs a wide and around a couple of feet deep hole with the front flippers to sit in it and then with the help of hind flippers digs about two to two-and-half-foot-deep cylindrical pit to lay her eggs.
A turtle can lay between 100 and 150 leathery white ping pong ball shaped and sized eggs in a clutch and lays three clutches at an interval of two to four weeks in a season after which she takes a rest for five years. After egg laying she closes both the pits and returns to the sea leaving the eggs at the mercy of nature. The entire exercise takes between three and five hours to complete.
Despite the turtles laying such a high number of eggs they are facing extinction threat as their survival rate is very low and only one out of 1,000 eggs survives to become a mature turtle. Stray dogs at the beaches are the first predators digging the egg pit and eating the eggs. Weighing roughly around 100 grams when the hatchlings ? after six to eight weeks incubation period ? come out of the pits these are again attacked by the dogs and aquatic birds.
Once in the sea the hatchlings, which have a very soft shell, are eaten up by crabs, fish and larger aquatic creatures. The high rate of mortality continues till they complete first year, which is also called the lost year, after which their shell becomes harder. Those who survive become adults and roughly live up to 100 years unless they meet an accident or drown ? the turtles cannot breath underwater ? after being caught in fishing nets. Turtle eggs and meat are in high demand in the Far Eastern countries where, according to a myth which is not supported by any scientific evi dence, they have aphrodisiac qualities.
Responding to Dawn queries, Dr Fahmida Firdous, a turtle expert of the Sindh wildlife department (SWD), said that keeping in view the precarious status of the turtles, the SWD started a conservation programme in 1979 under which mother turtles are tagged to track their migration patterns when they come for egg laying and after she returns the eggs are collected from the pit and brought in to the department?s enclosure where these are buried at the same depth and when the hatchlings come out of the pits in the protective nests, these are collected and released at the beach in the night about 15 to 20 feet away from the sea as they would remembered the beach and females among them would return to lay the eggs some 20 years later.
She said that over 7,500 mother turtles had been tagged so far and more than 2.2 million eggs had been collected and more than 700,000 hatchlings ? egg to hatchling ratio being 3 eggs to 1 hatchling ? had been released so far.