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Save a sea turtle in distress

We may be enjoying the cool weather, but local sea turtles, which are already critically endangered, are having a hard time with the cold weather and are washing up on UAE shores.

While this is common between December and February, when temperatures are at their lowest, it can lead to illness and death if they are not treated properly – which is why the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is calling on UAE residents to alert them if they spot a turtle in distress.

“It’s the natural thing for people to think they’re helping,” said Warren Baverstock, DTRP’s operations manager, “but it causes a lot of trauma for the animal who’s already sick.”

Since turtles are cold-blooded creatures, a decline in water temperatures results in them not being able to clean themselves often, which results in barnacles making them heavier. That, combined with disease, can cause them to starve because they can’t dive down and feed. Several species of sea turtles wash up on UAE beaches, including, Green, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill turtles, which are native to the Middle East.

Hawksbill turtles are listed as critically endangered, and on average, eight of them are found per day.

According to David Robinson, DTRP and Aquarium assistant operations manager, “Hawksbill turtles have had an 87 per cent population decline in recent years, and it’s all caused by humans.”

The turtles brought in to the DTRP are often encrusted with barnacles, missing limbs because of plastic entanglements, have punctured lungs, blood disease, or a number of other problems. There was once also a case that involved a turtle whose shell was cracked in half because of a boat accident.

Since 2004, the team of seven has returned back to the sea over a thousand turtles brought in by members of the public and conservation organizations. But they still need help from beachgoers to bring them found sea turtles, rather than trying to treat them themselves. Turtles are first treated at the aquarium at the Burj Al Arab before being released into the sea or spending recovery time at the lagoon at Madinat Jumeirah.

Here are five tips from the DTRP to help you get involved in saving UAE’s sea turtle visitors the right way.

1. You should never clean them yourself

If you spot a sea turtle on the beach, and it’s covered in barnacles, do not try to take the barnacles off on your own. Only professionals know the proper procedure to do so without injuring the turtle.

“A lot of people see washed-up turtles with barnacles on them and try to help by taking a knife or screwdriver, and trying to ply them off. But that causes internal bleeding, and we lose about ten turtles every year because of people doing that,” said Robinson.

2. You should never feed them

Sometimes, turtles washed up on the shore may have intestinal problems. Feeding them may make things worse. Also, being reptiles, turtles can go for a long time without feeding.

3. You should never take them home OR throw them back in to the water

Not only is taking turtles home against UAE law, but it also endangers the turtle’s life. Giving a sick and injured turtle proper care is very costly and requires expert attention. Sea turtles are wild animals that should not be kept in captivity, as they may sustain injuries from small spaces.

Throwing them back into the water while they’re sick or injured will delay their treatment or result in them dying.

The best thing to do is to take any found sea turtle to the drop off point outside Burj Al Arab. Contact the DTRP team on 04 301 7198 or via Facebook to let them know that you’re coming.

4. Keep them hydrated

If you find turtles on the beach and can take them to get proper treatment, you should place them in a container with just one centimetre of clean seawater to keep them hydrated. Make sure the water isn’t too cold.

5. Don’t litter

The most immediate way to help sea turtles is by refraining from littering at the beach. Turtles may ingest or become entangled in plastic waste, and end up dying or losing a limb. “It’s very common to lose a flipper because of plastic entanglement,” said Robinson, while holding up a small turtle with a severed flipper.

Did you know?

Sea turtles can live to 100-170 years old.

60 per cent of all turtles coming in for rehabilitation are brought in by beachgoers.

The hawksbill turtle has only an around 8,000 nesting females left in the world.

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