Four Turtle Releases in 2017 and Counting
THE 1st TURTLE RELEASE OF 2017
75 critically endangered Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and one very rare adult female Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) named Barnacle were put back into the wild on the 11th of May from the Jumeirah Al Naseem beach. Olive Ridleys are most certainly rare, as there are only 25 nesting female Olive Ridleys left in all of Arabia.
Situated near the shores of the Arabian Gulf, the new facility at Jumeirah Al Naseem is the region’s first purpose-built lagoon for rehabilitating rescued turtles. The animals which have suffered a range of illnesses or traumas, can now 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.
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 these 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 Burj Al Arab’s Aquarium Operations Manager said, “We are extremely proud to release these rehabilitated sea turtles back into their environment. We are especially grateful to the local community and the organisations who found many of the injured turtles and brought them to us for rehabilitation. The tagging initiative provides valuable data about how the turtles are progressing back into the wild.”
The turtles were all rescued from the shores of the UAE and nursed back to health by the DTRP, one of the longest standing Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in the region and the only project of its kind in the Middle East. The project accepts any distressed turtle, with the most common turtles found in the Arabian Gulf being the critically endangered Hawksbill and the endangered Green sea turtle. The majority of rescued turtles are juvenile Hawksbills, which are found washed up on the Gulf coastline during the winter months of December, January and February suffering from the adverse effects of cold sea temperatures. Other common aliments include ingesting plastic rubbish and injuries sustained from boats.
Once the turtles have been rescued, they are assessed before beginning the rehabilitation process which can take up to a year. Prior to release, they are transferred to the new outdoor enclosure at Jumeirah Al Naseem which allows the team to monitor the final stages of rehabilitation before the turtles are released back into UAE territorial waters.
His Excellency Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi the Minister of Climate Change and Environment attended and participated in the release. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project team worked tirelessly to save these animals and get them back into the wild where they belong. It was an amazing event supported by children from the Dubai British School who raised the funds for Barnacle’s satellite tag!
This release however did not have a happy ending. Devastatingly, Barnacle was struck and killed by a large and powerful boat sometime on Saturday evening (2 days later) and washed ashore on the Sunday morning. The tag showed that she had made it about 30km offshore before she was struck. The DTRP managed to recover her body but the damage was quite extensive and the tag was lost from her carapace due to the impact. The DTRP had worked with Barnacle for over a year to get her fit enough and strong enough for her release and were all extremely saddened that this had happened. Unfortunately, boat strikes are not uncommon and they are a serious threat to sea turtles all around the world. The DTRP are hoping that this incident will raise awareness about the threats that turtles face in UAE waters.
THE 2nd TURTLE RELEASE
ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY (TOTAL: 50)
A very successful turtle release was done from the Emirates Palace beach, Abu Dhabi on the 18th of May with 49 juvenile Hawksbill turtles and a satellite tagged female monster Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) named Sam. She was brought into the DTRP in December 2016 suffering from a severe infection and debilitation. After months of intensive care and rehabilitation, Sam gained 20kg and was released in Abu Dhabi where she was originally found. She was fitted with a Wildlife Computer SPOT 6 satellite tag which was sponsored by Shamsa Al Hameli, Amna Al Mansoori and Maitha Al Hameli from the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). The first letter of each name concluded her name was SAM.
This event was in celebration of the Endangered Species Day (May 19th) which highlights the plight of many threatened and critically endangered species and highlights ways in which each person can alter their behaviour in small ways to help protect and save animals.
Loggerhead turtles are not common within the Gulf, so it is important for the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project to track their movements and areas that are important to them. Satellite tracking also allows them to watch the turtles’ behaviour after release to see if they integrate back into turtle society well. It also allows them to see if all the hard work they put in during her rehabilitation had worked, and so far, so good!
Once turtles are released from long periods in captivity, they first find a nice place to rest and then it takes them a couple of days to orientate, and then they take off. This is exactly what Sam had done, and she headed south of Abu Dhabi. The DTRP’s previous tagging had shown that Loggerheads prefer slightly cooler water, so they expected her to take a turn towards the central Gulf.
Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Director to the Terrestrial of Marine and Biodiversity at EAD said, “This turtle release shows EAD’s commitment towards conserving endangered species through rescuing turtles and involving the community and younger generation. By getting them closer to the species, they can connect to our natural heritage and become players in the conservation arena. It’s important that the public understands that these are endangered wild animals and if found, must be handled appropriately and handed over to authorities for expert care. We urge the public to call 800-555 if they encounter any stranded turtles or marine life.”
Often weighed down by barnacles, the young turtles are sensitive to rough sea and cold conditions and get washed ashore. While other turtles suffer from infections, boat strikes and gill net injuries, and other threats are underlying conditions that could be fatal to these animals.
Dr. Shaikha also added, “We also thank the Emirates Palace for their wonderful support with rescuing turtles and for hosting this event today”.
THE 3rd TURTLE RELEASE
40 rehabilitated turtles were released at EMEG’s (Emirates Marine Environmental Group) Ghantoot Reserve with Dubai Municipality on the 26th of May. The day was a huge success with many onlookers there to support the release.
THE 4th TURTLE RELEASE
WORLD SEA TURTLE DAY (TOTAL: 40)
The DTRP collaborated with the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in Dubai Mall on this occasion and released 40 endangered sea turtles into the Arabian Gulf next to Jumeirah Al Naseem to celebrate World Sea Turtle Day on the 15th of June.
For the past three years, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in Dubai Mall has supported the DTRP and this year raised awareness of the project by hosting five of the turtles as part of their rehabilitation process.
The four juvenile Hawksbills and one amputee juvenile Green turtle were displayed in a large exhibit to raise awareness about the plight of the sea turtles in the region and also to promote the project via literature around the exhibit. In support of the project and research, the Dubai Mall Aquarium then purchased five satellite tags for the turtles to enable the team to track their progress in the wild.
Warren Baverstock said, “The exhibit at Dubai Mall, which highlights DTRP’s rehabilitation efforts is designed to educate the many visitors to Dubai Mall on the plight of these turtles. After a month’s rehabilitation period, the turtles were returned to the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah aquarium, fitted with a satellite tag and then released back into the Arabian Gulf. Their movements can be monitored and followed on Facebook.”
TO DATE More than 1,300 sea turtles have been successfully returned to the sea over the past ten years since the project’s inception. The satellite tagging initiative allows the DTRP to develop a picture of the turtles’ journeys through the region. Interested parties can check for updates on the Dubai Aquarium and the DTRP Facebook pages.
The project’s tagging initiative once tracked a turtle that travelled an amazing 8,600km in nine months almost reaching the coast of Thailand. This shows the project not only affects these populations on a regional and national level but also on an international level. The tags also allow the team to compare habitat, temperature choice and migration patterns for each species, information which is crucial for the formulation of conservation plans. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Hawksbill turtle has seen an 87% decline in population over the last three decades with only an estimated 8,000 nesting females left in the world.