By Faranak Bakhtiari

Half of endemic turtle species in Iran endangered

May 23, 2021 - 17:47

TEHRAN – Iran is home to 10 endemic species of turtles, five of which are sea turtles, and all five are endangered due to human activities, oil pollution, and coastal degradation and development.

These creatures date back to the time of the dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago. A total of 360 have been identified worldwide, from the oceans to the deserts, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, of which 187 are endangered and 127 are critically endangered. Many of these species are predicted to become extinct within the next century.

Turtles, like many species of animals, are valuable to the environment and ecosystem, but they face a variety of dangers and threats, including climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution, as well as illegal fishing and trade.

Therefore, to raise awareness among humans to help turtles survive and thrive in their natural habitat, every year World Turtle Day is celebrated.

May 23 is designated as World Turtle Day since 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.

World Turtle Day is celebrated around the globe in a variety of ways, from dressing up as turtles or wearing green summer dresses, to saving turtles caught on highways, to research activities. Turtle Day lesson plans and craft projects encourage teaching about turtles in classrooms.

Endangered turtles of Iran

In general, there are 10 species of turtles in Iran, five species of which are terrestrial turtles (non-marine turtles), and the other five species are considered sea turtles.

European pond turtle, Caspian turtle, and Euphrates softshell turtle are the three species of pond turtles; while two species of spur-thighed tortoise and Afghan tortoise are terrestrial.

The Euphrates softshell turtle with the scientific name of Refetus euphraticus is the only soft-shell turtle in Iran, which is critically endangered facing extinction.

The predominant species of turtles in the Persian Gulf is the hawksbill sea turtle that lays its eggs on its shores, and the Oman Sea is hosting the green sea turtle species. Also, in recent years, there have been reports of olive ridley sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, and even leatherback sea turtle on the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

All five species of sea turtles are also endangered due to human activities, oil pollution, and the destruction and development of beaches or spawning grounds. Other factors that threaten sea turtles can be excessive haunting or illegal trade.

National plan for protecting sea turtles

Therefore, the protection of these species in order to prevent their extinction is a fundamental issue to be considered in our country.

Sea turtles are reptiles that have limited habitats on the southern coast of Iran for spawning, so these habitats should be protected not to disturb the turtles while laying. Also, considering the place and time of spawning, people and tourists should also receive the necessary information to be cautious at the time of spawning and do not move their eggs.

Davood Mirshekar, head of the marine ecosystem protection office at the Department of Environment, in March announced the development of a "national action plan for the protection of sea turtles", noting that sea turtles are an endangered species in our country. Measures to protect this endangered species are now on the agenda.

Cleaning the spawning grounds, census, and biometrics of turtles that go to the shores for spawning are among the measures taken every year to protect the species on the southern coast of the country, according to Mirshekar. Installation of warning signs on beaches prone to spawning and management of light sources - when the hatchlings go to sea - is another measure taken to protect turtles.

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