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Pet turtle arrives safely in Aqaba by Dalya Dajani
Halashka being transported A sea turtle that spent most of its life in captivity arrived safely in Aqaba where it is being prepped for its long-awaited taste of freedom in the Red Sea. Halashka, a female sea turtle that was captured by fishermen nearly three years ago and sold to a pet shop, had been raised by a family for the past year and eight months. The family handed him over to marine authorities this weekend in a move partly motivated by guilt after learning more about the impact of captivity on endangered marine species, and also the rising cost of keeping their pet turtle. The sea turtle, measuring around 50 centimetres in length, is currently at the Aqaba Marine Science Station (MSS).

According to Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS) Executive Director Fadi Sharaiha...
" We transported the turtle to Aqaba in a special vehicle with a marine biologist on board... and all seems to be going well," he said. " It will undergo the necessary physical and health check ups and then be placed in a protected pond at the MSS some 700 metres from the shore for further observation, " Sharaiha added. The JREDS official said the turtle appears to be in good condition, noting that the owner had taken special care of the pet by placing it in water with special minerals to render it closer to the conditions of its original habitat - a costly, yet important step. According to Sharaiha, this also means it would be "less of a problem trying to re-introduce the turtle to sea water."

Halashka being checked Research on protected sea turtle species indicates that several factors are a concern when planning to release marine creatures back into the wild. These include searching for any form of genetic defects, diseases or parasites, which might amplify and multiply after release. In addition, creatures that spend a long period in captivity lose their ability to live and forage in the wild as they do not have to put energy into searching and competing for food. Sharaiha said the turtle will then be tagged and released into the Red Sea, adding that he expects it would be ready for release in three days. "The marine biologist said the period spent in captivity by the turtle was relatively short and felt it could be ready for release much sooner," he added. The release will be carried out with the team of divers involved in the organisation's regular clean-up dives in Aqaba, he said, in order to familiarise them with the turtle and give them a sense of ownership in the protection of the marine creature as well as others in the Red Sea. " By keeping a record of the turtle, we will be able to track it while also encouraging marine conservation through these clean up dives and the re-introduction of the sea turtle, " said Sharaiha.

The turtle will be monitored by sight, according to the JREDS official, as they do not have technological tracking devices for these purposes at this stage. " The Gulf of Aqaba is limited so the divers will be familiar with the turtle when they spot it during their dives and hopefully also prevent others from hunting it, " he said. " This is new to us and we hope the example set by this family will encourage other owners of endangered marine species to exercise more discretion when picking a pet or to come forward if they need any help, " he added. Sharaiha said JREDS was willing to provide owners of pets native to the Red Sea with technical assistance to ensure they get the proper care and environment or to return them to their natural habitat.

Turtle being observed in its natural habitat Exploited heavily in the global pet trade, sea turtles have become endangered species whose survival has required intervention at various levels. Turtles are just one of many marine communities whose lives are crucial for the balance of the eco-system. They feed on seaweed and sea grass that commonly grow along coral reefs, which are a key attraction for divers and tourists in Aqaba. Reputed for having one of the world's most unique coral reef systems, Aqaba's waters host around 127 species of hard coral and 300 kinds of soft coral, as well as thousands of plants and animals that have coexisted in the Gulf for hundreds of years.

The problem of littering on Aqaba's public beaches, however, continues to pose a threat to the fragile marine habitat. Most of the litter such as plastic bags, cigarette butts and soda cans are often washed into the sea and some of it collects where turtles feed. Mistaking a piece of plastic garbage as food and ingesting it is toxic for turtles and risks obstructing their stomach and preventing them from receiving nutrition from real food. JREDS' regular beach clean ups in Aqaba are designed to protect the fragile eco system from such threats and the organisation recently resorted to the paid services of divers from several dive centres in Aqaba to step up the frequency of these clean ups.
Copy from The Jordan Times as printed on December 14th 2008

As well as joining in with these clean up dives, we, at Dive Aqaba clean up underwater on a daily basis as this seems to be the only way to keep up with all the trash entering the sea. More info...
JREDS to keep track of Halashka by Dalya Dajani
Halashka being released On Thursday,in a special ceremony marking his release yesterday, Halashka was placed on the shore of the Aqaba Marine Park, from where he crawled towards the sea and disappeared into the water. Their Royal Highnesses Princess Wijdan Hashem and Princess Basma Bint Ali, JREDS Chairperson Minister of Environment Khalid Irani and ASEZA Chief Commissioner Hosni Abu Gheida attended yesterday's ceremony.

JREDS Executive Director Fadi Sharaiha told The Jordan Times that seeing the turtle reunited with his original habitat was a moving moment. "It is really a great thing to see happen...I can't find the words for it," he said. "It is also the first time that Jordan releases a captive pet marine animal back into the wild, and marks an important step in terms of the impact of awareness efforts which made it possible," he added. The turtle, measuring around half a metre in length, is one of several endangered marine species in the Red Sea, whose survival is being threatened by various factors, including hunting and pollution caused by littering and growing tourism development in the area.

JREDS has been trying to address these problems with ongoing campaigns to raise awareness about the marine environment, improved legislation and regular beach and clean up dives to prevent the eco system from further degradation. One of these awareness sessions was key to Halashka's newfound freedom, giving his previous owners an insight into the harm they were causing by keeping him in captivity. Although the family took good care of their pet turtle, providing him with a diet of cucumbers and fish and also placing minerals in his tank, it was a challenge. After being handed over to JREDS, the turtle was placed in a protected pond at the Aqaba Marine Science Station, where he underwent a complete check and was fitted with a tag. PERSGA, a regional organisation working in conservation of the coastal environments, provided JREDS with the tag, which will allow them to track the turtle, Sharaiha said. "We placed our own tag as well as that of PERSGA on the turtle, which means it will now be easier to monitor him," he added. "We hope the example set by this family will encourage others who own pet sea turtles to consider coming forward, to give these creatures a chance to go back to their own homes where they belong," Sharaiha noted.
Copy from The Jordan Times as printed on December 19th 2008
Pet sea turtle undergoes acclimatisation process by Dalya Dajani
Halashka photo by Abdullah Momany JREDS Executive Director Fadi Sharaiha told The Jordan Times yesterday. "She came back to the same spot on the Aqaba Marine Park shoreline where she had been officially released only a few hours later," he said. "Unfortunately, she was unable to deal with the new environment so we teamed up with the Marine Science Station (MSS) and developed an acclimatisation programme to help her adjust," he added. Sources previously told The Jordan Times that the sea turtle was a male, but after closer observation marine officials identified her as a female hawksbill. MSS Diving Officer Abdullah Momany, who has been directly involved in the acclimatisation programme, said he was not surprised that the sea turtle could not successfully stay out in the wild upon its release. "Sea turtles that have been placed in captivity for a long period of time often find it difficult to readjust to their natural habitat once they are released," Momany told The Jordan Times yesterday. "Among these are two important factors key to their survival - breathing and feeding - and we have been working on these," he added. According to Momany, JREDS and the MSS have been working closely together to prepare for the turtle's eventual release, starting with the pond, where its main source of natural food - soft coral - has been introduced. The process crucial to familiarise Halashka with what she will be feeding on in her natural habitat, as well as help her regain the ability to live and forage in the wild, Momany said, explaining that the sea turtle got used to being fed by hand over the years and must now learn to hunt food on her own. The other key factor is helping the pet turtle readjust to the varying depth levels in the natural habitat. The MSS diving officer said sea turtles can swim to a depth of around 30 metres and stay underwater for up to two hours without surfacing for air, but since Halashka was in an aquarium barely half a metre in depth, she got used to coming up for air every few minutes. Momany, who is also a master diving instructor, said he and a JREDS diver had taken Halashka into the water on January 6 in the first of a series of exercises to prepare her to adapt to varying depths. " We placed her a few metres away from the shore at the MSS reserve and watched her make her way into the water, then proceeded to monitor her underwater," he said. The first try was a struggle for the turtle, who only made it to a depth of one metre before surfacing for air, according Momany. The first exercise was scheduled for a depth of 15 metres, with the divers monitoring the intervals and depths at which Halashka needed to go up for air and at times gently prodded her to a lower depth. " We wanted to see how deep she could go before having to come up for air and if she could reach the same depth when she came back down...Not being able to do so means she still needs time," he said. Another two dives are slated for January 20 (at a depth of 18 metres) and February 4 (at a depth of 20 metres). Each dive takes approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Momany said the marine reserve was an appropriate location for the readjustment process as well as the future release of the sea turtle as it is a restricted area for hunting and fishing.
Copy from The Jordan Times as printed on January 12th 2009
Pet sea turtle makes progress in acclimatisation programme by Dalya Dajani
Monitoring Halashka The once-captive pet sea turtle Halaskha made promising progress during her latest dive with marine authorities in Aqaba, swimming deeper underwater and beyond the anticipated depth. Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS) and Marine Science Station (MSS) personnel in Aqaba, who are leading Halashka's acclimatisation programme took her out to sea for her second dive last week as part of breathing exercises. MSS Diving Officer Abdullah Momany said unlike the first exercise on January 5, Halashka struggled less as she swam deeper and this time without assistance. "We took her out at 10 in the morning and again we swam nearby to monitor her," he noted. "At first she swam to a depth of around five metres and we decided not to prod her so that we could see the maximum depth she would be able to go before coming up to the surface for air," Momany added. The MSS diving officer told The Jordan Times that the turtle managed to dive to a depth of 20 metres instead the 18 metres scheduled for the second dive, which took her around 12 minutes. Having witnessed the sea turtle barely make it to only one metre instead of the scheduled 15 metres during her first dive, Momany was optimistic. He also said that unlike the first exercise, where Halashka needed to surface for air several times and at times required to be prodded gently to a lower depth, this time she managed on her own. During these exercises, divers monitor the intervals and depths at which the sea turtle can swim as part of the acclimatisation process. Last week's exercise, however, did not end without problems. According to Momany, once Halashka completed her 20-metre dive and came up to the surface for air, she was reluctant to go back underwater. "She stayed on the surface for around five or six minutes, which wasn't a good sign," he explained. At that point, the divers took Halashka back to the pond at the MSS where she is being housed as part of her rehabilitation. The adaptation programme for Halashka was designed to help acclimatise the once-captive marine creature to its original habitat. The process includes introducing soft corals, its main source of food in the wild, into the pond she is housed in and undertaking dives to help her adjust to the breathing process. Momany said he expected another two or three additional dives would be sufficient before preparing for the turtle's final release. "We are going to conduct a few more dives and hope she will be ready by then," said Momany. "We would like to get to the stage where we are comfortable sending her out on her own and see her dive deeper, spend a longer time underwater and feed on soft corals. I also hope she will find a safe place or rock to hide under when she needs to," he added.
Copy from The Jordan Times as printed on January 28th 2009
Pet sea turtle released into Red Sea by Taylor Luck
Monitoring Halashka After spending over one month in an acclimatisation programme, the once-captive pet sea turtle Halashka finally began her journey home this week. The four-year-old Hawksbill was released into the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba on Monday, and after 24 hours of monitoring, authorities officially marked her reintroduction into her natural habitat, according to the Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS). " We can confirm that the release was a success," JREDS Executive Director Fadi Sharaiha told The Jordan Times yesterday. The turtle swam to depths of 20 metres and even began to instinctively hunt for its own food, signalling a successful reintroduction into its original habitat, he noted. "The first few hours were critical, and as she didn�t return... so we can confirm that she has been officially released into the Red Sea," Sharaiha said, adding that marine authorities will continue to monitor the coastal waters to ensure Halashka has truly journeyed home.
Copy from The Jordan Times as printed on February 4th