Environment

Green Encounter

Green sea turtles look for safe spaces along Turtle Beach.

By Nighat Majid | April 2022


Bright lights. Loud music. Floodlights: the moon’s benign light isn’t good enough. A weekend beach party in full swing. To the south of the beach house lies the tranquil Arabian sea; to the north the harsh and unbroken line of vacation homes stretching for miles along Turtle Beach at Hawkes Bay, on the coast of Karachi.

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I arrived at the Sind Wildlife Department’s Marine Turtle conservation Unit at Hawkes Bay in the hope of witnessing a green turtle’s egg-laying process. A recent article in Dawn by wildlife filmmakers, Ahmer Ali Rizvi and Heba Moeen, had alerted me about the plight of green turtles. I had learnt:

Green sea turtles are some of the biggest turtles and can live up to an age of 70. The female lays up to 110 eggs in each clutch during September-February. The mother takes almost two hours to find a safe spot in the sand, then digs a hole, lays her eggs and crawls back to sea, exhausted. Green turtles are called green because of their green blubber. The chances of survival of the hatchlings is one in 1000. The adult green turtle, known as the ocean-sweeper, is a herbivore, surviving on sea vegetation and algae.

Tourist beaches, irresponsible construction, cars, lights, poachers, fishing nets and trawlers, all hamper the chances of mommy turtles laying their eggs successfully and their hatchlings surviving. Once she lays them her eggs can be eaten by natural predators, like dogs and snakes. The hatchlings, upon reaching the sea, can also become an aquatic predator’s meal.

The beach looked quite clean as we waited for sunset. The turtles only come out at night when they feel safe enough. Walking along the beach, we picked up carelessly tossed out plastic and Styrofoam litter. Hard to believe there had been a beach clean-up drive just the previous day. After sunset, thick smoke rose from pyres of all that garbage burning all along the beach road. The locals were burning it since there’s no other garbage disposal arrangement, and it’s better to burn rather than dump in the sea. Hundreds of plastic bags, filled with unrecyclable plastic, burned away. Not surprisingly, no turtles sighted that night.

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I’m a green sea turtle looking for a safe beach. There’s not more three hundred thousand of us in the world’s oceans. I need a safe stretch of sand to lay my eggs. Swimming along Turtle Beach, where the sand is soft and dry, perfect for laying my eggs, can I come out of the sea? I sense danger. There are lights, noise, smoke, and oh! so many people. I’d better swim along till I find a safer, quieter beach. But what if I don’t find one? I’m getting tired. It’s becoming harder and harder to find safe spaces on these beaches. What’s wrong? On my last trip here, there was someone who climbed on top of me to take photos. They thought it was fun. I was lucky I made it back alive.

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