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Dubai schoolchildren take part in release of 100 turtles at Burj Al Arab

Dozens of children excitedly gathered along the seashore in front of the Burj Al Arab on Thursday morning to watch the release of 100 rehabilitated turtles, the biggest and oldest of which they got to name Beau.

The Dubai British School children were invited to mark World Sea Turtle Day and see first-hand the turtles being returned to their natural habitat.

Warren Baverstock, operations manager at the Burj Al Arab’s Aquarium, said that raising awareness was an important part of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project.

"I think it’s important that children are engaged, and it is an amazing experience for them," he said.

Six of the turtles, including 45-year-old Beau, who weighs 100 kilograms and had to have one of his flippers amputated after getting it stuck in a fishing line, were fitted with small satellite tags to learn more about them and their journeys.

"We would have like to tag them all but it’s very expensive, so we have selected a few of the little ones to learn more about them and where they will go," said Mr Baverstock, adding that the tags in no way harm the animals and that they will eventually chip off as the turtles grow.

Since the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project began in 2004, 1,090 turtles have been released back into the wild.

Beau’s tag was sponsored by the Burj Al Arab, while the others were sponsored by Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.

Of the 100 turtles, 96 are critically endangered juvenile hawksbills, and there was one juvenile loggerhead, two juvenile greens and Beau, a large adult loggerhead. They were rehabilitated in facilities at the Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah.

Mr Baverstock said they were proud to celebrate World Sea Turtle Day in Dubai.

"We are especially gratefully to the local community and the organisations who found many of the injured turtles and brought them to us for rehabilitation," he said. "To our knowledge, this is the first time that juvenile loggerheads and greens have been tagged in the region, which will provide valuable data about their progress in the wild."

All the turtles were rescued from UAE shores and brought back to health by the project, one of the longest-standing corporate social responsibility initiatives in the region.

The project accepts any distressed turtle, with the most common turtles found in the Arabian Gulf being the hawksbill and the endangered green sea turtle.

Those interested in tracking the tagged turtles can do so online.

The tagging initiative once tracked a turtle that travelled 8,600km in nine months, almost reaching the coast of Thailand. It also allows the team to compare habitat, temperature choice and migration patterns for each species, information that is crucial for the formulation of conservation plans.

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