Two hawksbill turtles -- one juvenile and one old female -- were released to their natural habitat along Eritrea's coast on 15 March 2012 after a period of convalescence. They had been nursed back to health after being injured during incidental capture.
The release programme conducted at the Port City of Massawa was designed to publicize turtle conservation work and highlight the need to protect marine species and their habitats in the coastal areas and islands of the Eritrean Red Sea.
The activity captured the attention of the country’s main broadcasting national media channels as their main news event. It was covered in at least five native languages, as well as Arabic and English, through the means of Eri-TV, radio and newspapers. The turtles were the first of the species to be taagged in front of the public and the media according to experts. The historic event was made possible by Yohannes Teclemariam, a community-based sea turtle expert in cooperation with the Ministry of Marine Resources of the State of Eritrea.
H.E. Mr. Tewelde Weldemichael, DG of the Ministry's Fisheries Development Department tagged each of the turtles on both of their fore limbs with titanium tags bearing a return address in Arabic and English languages. Around forty people from the Ministry accompanied him on the occasion and all watched the emotional send-off and disappearance of both turtles from the coastal beach.
At the release ceremony, Mr. Tekle Mengstu, a turtle expert, explained how the information from these tagged turtles would help determine the migration of these critically endangered creatures. This in turn would help to identify the best conservation efforts in concert with fellow countries where the animals migrate. He advised government institutions to deliver messages on turtle conservation in their respective areas. Finally he urged coastal residents -- be it soldiers or locals -- to play their key part in marine turtle conservation. He also conducted an interview at Eri-TV studio which was broadcasted for 20 minutes.
The animals were treated according to their condition and kept in appropriate tanks until they were fit for release into the open sea. All the relevant biometric data, as well as the landing locality, were recorded and entered into a database. The turtles were fed on shrimp or squid/sepia and helped to recover fully. During their rehabilitation programme, the injured turtles were observed properly and barnacles on their carapaces treated as necessary.
So far the main threat to sea turtles is highest in shrimp/fish trawling, and it is associated with the main shrimp fishing grounds between islands, where turtles frequently migrate to nest and forage. Several Egyptian trawlers and those of other nationalities, along with a few national trawlers, have been operating in the Eritrean Red Sea.
Five of the seven species of sea turtles, representing two families, Cheloniidea and Dermochelyidea, are known to exist in the Eritrean Sea. Realising the importance of its marine resources, Eritrea's Ministry of Fisheries has been conducting various ongoing awareness campaigns, seminars and training to promote greater awareness and recognition of marine resources by citizens in order to ensure long-term viability. The tag-recapture program has been ongoing since 2005. It has already resulted in the recapture of two female turtles tagged in 2007 at Mugeidih Island, which is highly frequented by turtles.
This feature was kindly contributed by:
Quality Control Laboratory
Ministry of Marine Resources – Eritrea