KARACHI - Along the coast of Pakistan, five species of turtles are said to be existing which include green, olive-ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback turtles.

Of these, leatherback is considered to be most rare and indeed one of the most endangered species of marine turtles.

Though there were reports about existence of the species in Pakistan but no living leatherback turtle was ever recovered from the country. On April 16, 2013, a group of fishermen operating monofilament gillnet caught a leatherback turtles near Surbandar village at Gwadar. In order to get this leatherback turtle free from their net, the fishermen beached it. The WWF-Pakistan staff helped the fishermen to ensure safe release of the turtle back into the sea.

The Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest marine turtle, rather the largest reptile is most widely distributed in Indian, Pacific and Indian Ocean including North Sea.  In the Arabian Sea, it is known from India, Oman, UAE and Yemen but is the rarest of all species of turtles in the area. Leatherback turtle can grow up to 900 kg and has a teardrop shaped body.

WWF-Pakistan Director Rab Nawaz has considered the report of leatherback turtle as good omen for the biodiversity in the country. He pointed out that the WWF-Pakistan has recently located a large population of olive-ridley turtles from offshore waters of Pakistan which was thought to be extinct from the area.

Abdul Rahim, WWF-Pakistan Coordinator at Gwadar who played an important role releasing the turtle, appreciated the role of fishermen who sacrificed their expensive gillnet (about Rs14,000) to ensure safe release of the species. He pointed out that there is an increased awareness among the fishermen for the protection of marine turtles due to the efforts of WWF-Pakistan's Pakistan Wetland Programme.  He further informed that WWF - Pakistan with the support of the provincial wildlife department has been conducting awareness programmes for the Sindh and Balochistan fishermen for the last two decades. Previously a dead leatherback turtle was recorded from Pushukan near Gwader in 2002. He pointed out that the leatherback turtle has survived for more than a hundred million years, but is now facing extinction.

Recent estimates of numbers show that the species is declining precipitously throughout its range of distribution. He stressed the need for all stakeholders including fishermen, Wildlife Departments and NGOs to take necessary steps for protection of turtles mainly nesting beaches need to be monitored and patrolled for controlling disturbances and feeding by scavengers including feral dogs.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Adviser (Marine Fisheries) WWF-Pakistan has pointed out that since leatherback solely feed on jellyfishes, its occurrence in Pakistan may be on account of recurrence of jellyfish blooms in the coastal areas. He said that the global population of the species was estimated to be 115,000 adult females in 1982. By 1996, this had been revised down to about 30-40,000. Leatherback population in the Indian Ocean has undergone dramatic decline in the past forty years.