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UAE coast: nesting turtles return to Kalba

2015-08-17 05:28:38

In the latest stop on our tour of the rich and varied UAE coastline, we find out how successes in conserving the wildlife of Khor Kalba are presenting a challenge for fishermen.
Research scientists John Pereira and Lisa Hebbelmann in the mangroves at Kalba.

For the first time in about four decades, sea turtles returned this year to nest on a beach at Khor Kalba on the Indian Ocean.

A Green turtle and a Hawksbill turtle produced hatchlings in the spring that successfully found their way to sea.

Before 2012 this would not have been possible when the beach and the adjacent mangrove were declared a protected area out of bounds to residents and visitors alike.

Before the ban, the area had been frequented by tourists and fishermen. The resulting noise and light pollution kept female turtles away, while off-road vehicles jeopardised eggs laid on the beach.

“All those things just add up,” said Lisa Hebbelmann, a research scientist at the Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, the body responsible for managing the area.

Spread across 1,494 hectares, the Al Hafiya protected area consists of mangroves, mud flats, coastal sands, a gravel plain covered in acacia trees and a mountains.

Waters within a nautical mile of the protected coastline are out of bounds to fishermen. The protection was declared in March 2012 and the following year it was registered with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

In addition to the turtles’ return, there are other signs of recovery, with new mangrove trees growing in the channels. Small patches of sea grass and sea sponge can also be seen.

Ms Hebbelmann said it was hard to quantify how many fish were hatching among the mangrove roots but their number was so great that “in the small channels, you are just walking among fish”.

The mangrove, some 300 years old, provide the only place in the UAE where the white-collared kingfisher breeds. The bird, also known as mangrove kingfisher, can be found from the Red Sea to Australia. Its subspecies, kalbaensis, however, can only be found in Kalba and at two sites in Oman.

“At low tide you are almost guaranteed to see one,” said John Pereira, a research scientist with the authority.

Last year, Mr Pereira and his colleagues counted 139 birds, while this year the number was 128 birds with 28 nests.

Kalba’s coastal dunes, covering an area of approximately two hectares, are the only remaining habitat example on the east coast. The dunes are also the only place in the UAE where a colony of Blanford’s fringe-toed lizards still live.

“This is also the only dune system you will find in the UAE,” Mr Pereira said.

The scientists expect to be able to share more good news as the area recovers further.

“Every time we are here, we discover something we had not seen before,” Ms Hebbelmann said.