The UAE is home to a surprising amount of wildlife and wild turtles are among the many species that grace the Arabian Gulf. Today, the Green and critically endangered Hawksbill turtles can be found in local waters. However, the latter has experienced a heavy decline across the world – largely as a result of oil pollution, the Asian meat trade (China is particularly fond of turtle meat), egg collection and the destruction of nesting habitats. But even everyday life presents its dangers in this region. Turtles are commonly injured by jet-skis and boats, or get caught up or ingest discarded rubbish. And this is where the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) springs into action. Established in 2004, the DTRP is run in conjunction with the Wildlife Protection Office and the Burj Al Arab Aquarium. The group rehabilitates turtles to their natural habitat where possible, while also raising awareness for the species and their plight. Each and every turtle at the sanctuary has been rescued from the waters of the UAE, having been injured or fallen sick. Sometimes members of the public will happen across the ailing creatures, otherwise the DTRP or Dubai’s Municipality’s patrols will find them. Aside from injuries, turtles can also get sick. This tends to be caused by excessive barnacle growth on their shells. Turtles are also more susceptible to becoming ill during the cooler winter months as they rely on gaining body heat from their surroundings. In fact, over a three-month period last year, 90 turtles that were either sick or injured were brought in to receive treatment from the DTRP. To begin with, injured or sick turtles are taken to a partnering veterinary clinic to determine the treatment required and are then micro-chipped for monitoring. From the vets, the turtles are then taken to the Burj Al Arab Aquarium to recover in indoor temperature-controlled quarantine baths. This can help bolster health as Warren Baverstock, the Aquarium Operations Manager explains: “The great advantage of using this facility is that the temperature can be up to 10 degrees higher than ambient, giving a much-needed boost to the debilitated turtle’s metabolism.”
Turtles that recover are then relocated to the Mina A’ Salam turtle enclosure. Here, the DTRP team monitors the turtles and their feeding behavior. During this time members of the public can visit the turtle sanctuary. At Friday brunch at Al Muna and Zheng He’s restaurants, diners can experience feeding time first-hand, as can guests staying within the resort on Wednesday afternoons. By providing public interaction, the DTRP hopes to raise awareness for turtles and the need to protect marine life. For instance, the number of turtle causalities could be significantly reduced if the public refrained from littering on beaches. The turtles remain at the sanctuary until fully recuperated and back to their original health. On average most will stay around a year, but the length of stay is dependent on the turtle’s condition. In this respect, not all the turtles will return to the wild. Animals with missing limbs, blindness and neurological problems would never be able to survive, therefore are permanently looked after, cared for and fed at the enclosure. Those that do recover have their flippers fitted with titanium tags before being released into the wild. The tags carry codes for identification along with the contact details of the Wildlife Protection Office. And in their quest to discover the habits and track the turtles’ journeys, DTRP would like to attach satellite transmitters to learn more about the species. “Further tracking is important for us to build a picture of where the turtles that are found in the waters of the Emirates travel to reach their feeding, breeding and nesting grounds. Without the protection of all these sites, the turtle population will surely decline further,” explains Warren. In the past, the group tracked a turtle named Dibba, previously in their care, for 8,600km – from the Middle East to South East Asia. By saving distressed turtles and undertaking research, the DTRP provide a crucial role in protecting the future of tomorrow’s wildlife.
For further information on the organisation log on to http://www.dubaiturtles.com, http://www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation or http://www.seaturtle.org