Carcasses of 25 turtles washed ashore in 2 days

Carcass of a turtleProthom Alo

Carcass of a large mother turtle of around 35 kg washed ashore at Shaplapur point of Baharchhara beach in Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar at around 12:30 pm Thursday. The left back leg of the turtle was chopped while there were injury marks on its face and back, most probably caused by a sharp weapon.

Carcasses of another nine mother turtles washed ashore at different beaches in Teknaf, including Parjatan Ghat, Dargar Chhara, that night. On the previous day, carcasses of 15 mother turtles washed ashore in Boro Dail of Baharchhara, Choukidar Para of Shilkhali, Mathabhanga and Uttar Shilkhali beaches.

In total the number of carcasses of mother turtles washed ashore in Teknaf beaches rose to 25 in just two days. Several of the dead turtles were gravid with eggs, said environmentalists.

This correspondent talked to Mohammad Yusuf, Md Hashem, Abdul Mannan, Abdul Majid, Monir Ahmed, Shafiullah and Dil Mohammad, who work as guards at a hatchery established by Community Development Center (CODEC) for facilitating reproduction of mother turtles in Teknaf.

They informed Prothom Alo that they have been involved in this work for 10 to 25 years but have never seen carcasses of so many turtles before in such a short span of time.

A stray dog is eating a turtle
Prothom Alo

A lot of dead mother turtles have been found on the beach this year, which is very disappointing. The mother turtles were looking for a safe place to lay their eggs. Fishermen beat them to death when they were caught in nets.

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CODEC’s Nature and Life project official Asim Barua told Prothom Alo the mother turtles travel thousands of kilometres from the deep sea to lay the eggs on beaches. But some of them are getting caught in the forbidden nets the fishermen placed near the beaches and dying while some are dying after being hit by fishing trawlers or deep sea vessels.

Most of the turtles that come to lay eggs at Bangladeshi beaches are Olive Ridley. They lay 30-120 eggs at a time.

Use of forbidden fishing nets not stopped

Abdul Alim from Maheshkhaliapara and Azizul Islam from Shamlapur in Baharchhara of Teknaf catch fish in Sonadia and Saiint Martin’s ISland areas. They said the fishermen have installed at least 6,000 forbidden nets including gillnets along 120 kms of the coastal area. When turtles from the deep sea come to lay eggs, they get caught in the nets. At this time, the fishermen kill the mother turtles with bamboo or sharp weapons and throw them in the sea. Those are washed ashore at the time of high tide.

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Speaking about this, Shamlapur fishing boat owners’ association president Belal Uddin said there are around 6,000 vessels for fishing in the sea. They have forbidden the fishermen to release the turtles if they are caught in the nets. Despite this the mother turtles are dying.

A man is taking care of a turtle
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Md Delwar Hossain, senior upazila fisheries officer, informed Prothom Alo that the fisheries department and coast guards conduct operations to remove forbidden fishing nets. They even destroy a huge amount of forbidden fishing nets. But nothing is working to stop this death of mother turtles, he added.

Cox’s Bazar forest and environment conservation parishad president Dipak Sharma Dipu told Prothom Alo on average carcasses of several mother turtles are being washed ashore everyday in Saint Martin’s Island, SHah Porir Dwip in Teknaf, Sabrang, Nayapara, Maheshkhalia Para, Baharchhara, Monkhali in Ukhia, Chepotkhalia, Patoartek, Inani, Himchhari in Cox’s Bazar, Darianagar, Kalatali Beach, Maheshkhali and Sonadia coastal areas.

Bodies of at least 35 mother turtles washed ashore in 20 days between 2 and 22 February, with 90 per cent of them having injury marks, he added.

Besides, the mother turtles that are coming to lay eggs are falling victim to attacks of stray dogs, especially in Saint Martin’s Island.

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Saint Martin’s union parishad chairman Mujibur Rahman said carcasses of some 10-15 mother turtles washed ashore in the last seven days. Most of them were eaten by the dogs while some were buried on the beach.

As there is no one to take care of the stray dogs, likewise no one is making the fishermen aware. They have no idea of the government’s rules regarding the use of forbidden fishing nets.

Danger of killing turtles

Sea turtles are one of the most important members of marine ecology. It helps maintain balance by eating jellyfish like poisonous marine animals.

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If the number of turtles decrease, this might increase pollution in the ocean and there will be a rise in jellyfish and other poisonous marine animals, think the experts. This will affect the production of fish, they think.

Speaking about this, former professor of zoology department at Chittagong University, Md Shah Alam said to Prothom Alo that turtles could stay alive for 2-3 hours if they are caught in nets. But the fishermen are beating them to death and throwing them in the sea. Turtles act like scavengers of the sea and help maintain ecological balance. It is the responsibility of everyone to keep them alive, he stressed.

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza