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Heroes in a half shell

Rescued sea turtles from around the region have started checking into the region’s first purpose built rehabilitation lagoon at Jumeirah Al Naseem. Claire Hill meets the dedicated team that’s on a mission to save these endangered animals.

The hotel’s prime location on the city’s 2km stretch of private beach makes it the perfect host for the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project’s (DTRP) new lagoon. Situated near the shores of the Arabian Gulf, this is the region’s first purpose-built lagoon for rehabilitating rescued turtles. The animals which have suffered a range of illnesses or traumas, can be carefully monitored in the lagoon before they are returned back to their native waters.

Tucked away near landscaped gardens, the new facility and nature trail is the public interface of the DTRP which has been saving turtles since 2004. The project plays a vital role in helping to raise awareness of the plight they face. Since it was established, the exemplary project has successfully released over 1,000 turtles to the Arabian Gulf which may otherwise have perished. The opening of the lagoon is a dream come true for marine biologist Warren Baverstock and his small team of six who work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate injured and sick turtles (mainly hawksbills, green and loggerheads) from around the region. It’s the combination of over 12 years of continuous hard work and their innate passion for wildlife which has enabled the project to get to this stage.

Warren Baverstock, the Aquarium Operations Manager, DTRP, masterminded the new lagoon and his passion for the project is clear. “The [previous] pens at Jumeirah Mina A’Salam were great, they were a stepping stone, but this new lagoon has been specifically designed with the turtles in mind – there are extended ledges, special overhangs, areas with shade and water flows.

“Everything in here is built around turtle rehabilitation which makes this place so special. It’s designed in such a way that it can either be one large lagoon or split into five separate pens. It’s great to see it come to fruition.”

Open to guests daily (members of the public can also attend feeding sessions each Wednesday at 11am), the lagoon’s discovery trail and observation island offers a chance to learn all about the turtle’s plight. The hawksbill, which is native to the Middle East, is listed as critically endangered with only an estimated 8,000 nesting females left worldwide. Turtles are in decline throughout most of the world and all seven species of marine turtles found globally are listed as vulnerable to extinction, endangered or critically endangered which shows just how vital projects like this are.

The sick and injured turtles are often rescued by members of the public during Dubai’s cooler months from December – February. Common injuries include ‘cold-stunning,’ and heavy barnacle growth (barnacles are not the problem with the animal but, they are a symptom of another ailment.) Other illnesses include turtles which have become ‘positively buoyant’ which affects their ability to dive down and feed. Causes can be trauma or an underlying problem such as an infection. The first stage of treatment begins at the rehabilitation tanks inside the turtle hospital at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. From there, it can take around 5 months for a small hawksbill turtle to complete the rehabilitation process and be released back into the wild. Warren and his team have seen all kinds of injuries over the years, however, he says every now and again a turtle is brought in with something they’ve never seen or treated before.

“At the moment we have one green turtle weighing 110kgs that was rescued with a cracked carapace (shell). We have treated it with a special product that fuses the carapace and bridges the gap between the two surfaces,” explains Warren. It is hoped this turtle will soon be transferred to the turtle lagoon at Jumeirah Al Naseem for its final stage of rehabilitation.

Another rescued turtle was found washed up on the beach at Jebel Ali with parasites on its eyes and the carapace was covered in algae. Warren explains how lucky it was to be rescued. “Underneath the algae was an inch of sand, it had probably been stranded for a month. After just two weeks of treatment, the turtle is swimming around the tank, its progress has been incredible.”

David Robinson, Assistant Aquarium Operations Manager, is equally passionate about the project. “We had one turtle who had been with us for a few months and was constantly floating high up in the water, there was no sign she was ever going to recover. We moved her out here [to the turtle lagoon] and within three weeks she was swimming down to the bottom which is great and she is now nearly ready to be released. She’s an Olive Ridley turtle and there are only 25 nesting females left in Arabia.”

The project’s educational programme aims to teach the next generation about the importance of conservation and the work it carries out. Every week the team conducts numerous school tours which reach over 1,000 children per year. Warren explains: “When we do our school tours, we can fill the observation island with children and they get a really nice perspective of the turtles and the water. A few schools every year will buy a satellite tag which enables them to track one turtle which they can name. In exchange, they are invited to a turtle release and the children then have a project to track online – for a school to be given this opportunity and have the ability to track is very unique.”

The tagging initiative provides the DTRP with vital information which helps them to understand the success of rehabilitation and to research turtle movements throughout the region.

The DTRP is run in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office, with essential veterinary support provided by the Dubai Falcon Hospital and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory. The day-to-day running of the project and the animal husbandry is managed by Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s dedicated aquarium team. The centre works closely with organisations such as the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, Emirates Marine Environmental Group, Dubai Municipality and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.


  • Place it into a bucket or plastic box with a little room-temperature fresh water

  • If the turtle is covered in barnacles, don’t try to pull them off, this could cause further trauma such as internal bleeding.

  • Contact the team on 04 301 7198 or via the DTRP‘s Facebook page to hand the turtle over by the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.

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