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Alexandria Rescues Sea Turtles: Why It Matters to the Ecosystem

4 March, 2017
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On the verge of being slaughtered, two loggerhead turtles were rescued from Moharram Bek fish market in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria on 23 February. 

The illegal trader who was found with the turtles was arrested after the Water Surfaces Authority and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency intervened, and charged under Article 28 of the Environmental Law. The article forbids the hunting, killing, catching, possessing, transporting, circulating or selling of wild birds and animals. 

A video posted on Facebook depicts the release of the male and female turtles back into the sea after receiving a health checkup. Such a moment was a reason for praise in a country that takes animal rights lightly, and in many instances is cruel to them.

Social media has circulated photographs of the illegal trading of sea turtles, and has played a major role in stopping the practice. 

“Civil society has a big role in stopping the illegal trading of Egypt’s wildlife,” said longtime animal rights activist and environmental conservationist Dina Zulfikar, who encourages citizens to report to the police or use the 19808 hotline if they witness a violation. 

Zulfikar explains the importance of sea turtles to the ecosystem. Sea turtles are part of two ecosystems, the beach/dune system and the marine system. If sea turtles went extinct, both ecosystems would be negatively affected.

Sea turtles and manatees act as grazing animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds. Without sea grass beds, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. “All parts of an ecosystem are important, if you lose one, the rest will eventually follow,” she states.

Also, beaches and dune systems do not receive much nutrients throughout the year, so very little vegetation grows on the dunes and no vegetation grows on the beach itself. As turtles lay their eggs on the beach, not every nest will hatch, not every egg in a nest will hatch, and not all of the hatchlings in a nest will make it out of the nest. All of the unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings are very good sources of nutrients for the dune vegetation, even the left over egg shells from hatched eggs provide some nutrients. Dune vegetation is able to grow and become stronger with nutrients derived from turtle eggs, which pours into the health of the entire ecosystem. 

“Since humans utilize the marine ecosystem as a natural resource for food and since humans utilize the beach/dune system for a wide variety of activities, a negative impact to these ecosystems would negatively affect humans,” Zulfikar concludes.

Following the latest incident, newly-appointed governor of Alexandria Mohamed Sultan demanded precautionary measures be taken to combat illegal poaching, pushing for criminalizing the act with a prison sentence and a fine that ranges between EGP 5,000 and EGP 50,000.

Meanwhile, Member of Parliament Mohamed Fouad filed a motion asking for a parliamentary inquiry into the incidents of illegal fishing of small sharks and sea turtles in the Mediterranean Sea.

The two sea turtles rescued in Alexandria / Credit: FacebookBefore the turtles were released into the sea. Photo credit: Facebook

The team of Alexandria officials preparing to bring the turtles to the sea. Photo credit: Facebook

The team of officials carrying the turtles to the water. Photo credit: Facebook

Officials release the turtles back into the sea. Photo credit: Facebook

Tags animal rescue Alexandria sea turtle