The ongoing cold spell gripping the UAE and coastal waters is taking its toll on young sea turtles, with dozens of the marine reptiles washing up on beaches in Dubai, said a marine expert on Tuesday.
Warren Baverstock, aquarium operations manager with the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, said the DTRP rescue facility at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah has been swamped in recent days by residents dropping off battered turtles barely clinging to life.
Turtles are being found all along UAE shores as the mercury dips to single digits and cold winds create rough seas and cool surface waters for some turtles that are already fending off bacterial infections and barnacle infestations, said Baverstock.
“On Sunday, we had about 25 turtles come into us,” Baverstock said on Tuesday. “Yesterday, we had two. The strandings have slowed down a bit.”
The turtles turned in are around one year old.
The good news is that the turtle rehabilitation project — under the auspices of Jumeirah and Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office supported by The Rulers’ Court in Dubai — has the medical staff and infrastructural resources to help nurture the injured turtles back to health.
When warmer conditions return, Baverstock said the turtle project releases vast numbers of the recovering reptiles back into the sea with the hope of replenishing turtle stocks to help stabilise future generations.
In the past five weeks of cooler weather in the UAE, Baverstock said the turtle project has witnessed a steady stream of rescued turtles turned in to the Burj Al Arab aquarium.
“All of the turtles we received in the last four to five weeks have been found on the west coast between Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” he said. “We’ve had 130 turtles this season.”
All but one of the turtles are Hawksbill turtles, a native species in Gulf waters that by some accounts is making a comeback.
The numbers rescued this year by DTRP are relatively normal as compared to other winters when the turtle project rescued and returned to health as many as 350 stranded turtles.
Baverstock said some people may believe they are helping sick turtles by removing the barnacles with pliers and then returning them to the sea but doing so can actually tear the protective turtle shell and damage organs underneath.
The best way to help stranded turtles is to place them in a container filled with a small amount of fresh water to keep them hydrated en route to the rehabilitation aquarium at Burj Al Arab, he said.
Help a sick turtle
To report a stranded turtle, Baverstock and staff can be reached by calling 04 301 7198, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or through the project’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation