Marine Turtles of the Red Sea
Marine turtles are long-lived reptiles that appeared on Earth in the late Triassic. There are seven extant species worldwide, five of which can be found in the Red Sea: the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the leatherback turtle. Marine turtles—as all top predators—have a prominent role in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems, in particular seagrass beds and coral reefs, but also in transporting nutrients towards naturally nutrient-poor ecosystems (the nesting beaches), and providing food and transportation for other marine species (e.g., barnacles and commensal crabs). Marine turtles also play an important role in the economy of the tourism industry. In fact, because they can usually be observed in coastal areas frequented by people, marine turtles are the primary attraction for numbers of snorkellers and divers, and contrary to other pelagic species, they are easily accessible even from the shore. In the Red Sea, very few data are available on marine turtles: green and hawksbill turtles are known to feed and nest in the area, although quantitative data are not precise. It is estimated that approximately 450–550 and 450–650 females of green and hawksbill turtles, respectively, nest every year along the Red Sea coast. Loggerhead turtles are known to nest outside the Gulf of Aden on the Socotra Islands (Yemen) in great numbers but no nesting activity has been reported within the Red Sea. Only one nest from an olive ridley turtle has been reported in the region, from 2006 in Eritrea. The leatherback turtle is only sporadically seen feeding, usually following jellyfish blooms, but no nesting activity has been recorded. Data for turtles in their feeding grounds and in-water habitats are greatly lacking for most countries. In Egypt it was found that there are at least 453 green turtles using 13 shallow bays as feeding and developmental areas. No regional assessment has been undertaken to quantify the impact of human-induced mortality on marine turtles in the region; however, major threats have been identified as bycatch, habitat destruction, directed harvest and pollution. Marine turtles are legally protected in all countries bordering the Red Sea both through national laws and international agreements; however, enforcement at sea and on nesting beaches is substantially lacking.