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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Permanent closure of Fuwairat beach urged to protect turtles

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Turtles at Fuwairat Beach.
Turtles at Fuwairat Beach.

As hundreds of turtles return to Qatar’s northeastern shores to bury their eggs, marine researchers here have recommended closing the popular Fuwairat beach year-round to protect the endangered Hawksbill population.

For the past eight years, the beach has been temporarily closed for approximately four months between April and July during the turtles’ nesting and hatching season, Qatar University researcher Shafeeq Hamza told Doha News.

Keeping the public away, he said, has made a huge difference. Hawksbill turtles are very particular about where they lay their eggs, often heading to the exact same spot that they were born, or have previously nested.

Noise and debris caused by human activities such as camping and beach fires can easily throw them off, said Hamza, who works at QU’s Environmental Studies Center.

“They turn away. And after so many times, they’ll give up,” he said.

Turtle hatching

In recent years, conservationists with QU – with support from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and funding from Qatar Petroleum – have helped to facilitate turtle breeding at Fuwairat, transferring eggs to secure new nests when needed.

Fence at Fuwairat Beach
Fence at Fuwairat Beach

Their activities, as well as the temporary fencing, are raising awareness about the Hawksbill turtles’ precarious existence and reducing incidents of egg poaching, Hamza said.

That program has been “quite effective,” with between 17 and 55 nests created each year between 2009-14. So far this year, researchers have found 15 nests, but expect that number to increase as more turtles come ashore.

Hamza explained that the typical adult female Hawksbill turtle reproduces every three to four years, which creates annual fluctuations in the number of nests.

Calling for closure

QU researchers formally recommended last year that the Ministry of Environment permanently fence off the beach. Hamza said the proposal was positively greeted, but said there are currently no signs of its imminent implementation.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

When visitors drive and barbecue on the beach, the sand is compacted and robbed of oxygen. That creates hard, unfamiliar ridges in the sand that turtles have difficulty negotiating and creating a less-than-ideal nesting environment.

Hamza said banning vehicles and camping would “rejuvenate” the sand to create better conditions for nesting. It would become more porous, allowing for optimum moisture and oxygen levels.

The ban would also benefit the coastal vegetation that help prevent erosion and protect the mangroves in the area, he added.

Tourist attraction

Along with front-line conservation efforts, local researchers have also been tagging and tracking turtles as they migrate. Ali Jassim al-Kuwari, the Ministry of Environment coordinator responsible for the marine turtle project, said most don’t leave the Gulf and travel between Qatar, Bahrain, Iran and Abu Dhabi.

He said that in recent years, “huge numbers of tourists” have come to the beach specifically to see the turtles. This necessitated the need for new rules.

Turtles at Fuwairat Beach
Turtles at Fuwairat Beach

While the beach is completely closed during the nesting season, security staff will escort some visitors during the later hatching period.

Al-Kuwari said that while turtle population statistics in the Gulf are hard to come by, it’s clear that the population still faces challenges even as egg poaching and hunting decline.

He said many young turtles die after being exposed to pollution in the water, while others are unintentionally caught up in fishing nets.

While these remain serious problems, Al-Kuwari said residents can do their part with a simple step.

“Keep away from (Fuwairat) beach,” he said. “There are many nests … (that an) SUV, ATV or fire can destroy.”

Thoughts?

9 COMMENTS

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Osama Alassiry AlMaadeed

What has been urged will be mulled… I hate the passive voice.

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

I think that would be a logical thing to do. Make it a no go area, many expats and locals alike destroy that beach with no care for the enviroment.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

MoE will come through and I hope for a year round ban

Ray Toh
Ray Toh
6 years ago

Maybe Qatar can learn from Oman on this. In Oman there is a permanent turtles breeding site with a research centre in it. The whole area is fenced off and the centre organize guided tour for the public to have the chance to witness this beautiful site ( it is a very good educational tour for kids for them to understand the nature wildlife and to learn how to care for the environment).

Residents here do need to learn on how to takecare of the environment. Look at how the parks, beaches, and even road are treated. This is really sad..!

CM
CM
6 years ago

Why not just ban driving on the beach as in most countries that have car parks and then only allow visitors to walk to the beach from the car park.

truth.e.ness
truth.e.ness
6 years ago
Reply to  CM

“This idea is insane! I refuse to walk to the beach!” – Man in SUV, parked 4 meters from store, honking horn for tea delivery.

Masboro
Masboro
6 years ago

Daytona Beach in Florida has a similar problem and manages to combine all year round beach driving with the turtle conservation. ‘Banning’ something is always the first reaction, where some ‘creative thinking’ may actually satisfy everyone.

Daniel Schriefer
Daniel Schriefer
6 years ago
Reply to  Masboro

“Creative thinking”? Aren’t you asking for too much?

Desert Witch
Desert Witch
6 years ago

Great to see an update on this story. The turtle project needs more support like this. They do a marvelous job in a very difficult environment. The state the beach is left in after weekends and school break times is horrendous.
A complete sectioning off of the area is needed for a few years at least in order to let the beach naturally form and settle the way nature intended it so that the turtles can negotiate the beach and lay their eggs. There are enough hazards in the sea once the baby turtles hatch and leave without creating more before they are even born.

Banning the four wheel drivers is probably the easy part. A fence with pedestrian access would do that. However, the only way they could monitor people on foot would be with a permanent coast guard or police presence. Someone who has the authority to stand up to anyone breaking the rules.

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