Protecting & Rescuing Turtles in the UAE.
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
A Morning with Jumeirah Group’s Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project.
Every year in June, when it comes to World Sea Turtle Day, Jumeirah Group’s Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) releases a swarm of endangered sea turtles at Jumeirah Al Nassem beach. I was so excited to bring the girls to be part of this experience for the first time. A friend had invited us for the presentation and to watch the release of the fully rehabilitated turtles early in the morning at 8am.
There are seven species of marine turtle that are listed as vulnerable to extinction, endangered or critically endangered. The Hawksbill turtle, native to the Middle East, is listed as critically endangered, with only an estimated 8,000 nesting females left worldwide. This year, 21 juvenile Hawksbill turtles and five young Green turtles – both of which are considered endangered species – were released from the beachfront under the watchful eye of the marine specialists, having been rescued, nurtured and rehabilitated at the Turtle Rehabilitation Sanctuary at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
Recently, the project also partnered with MS Porrima – the world’s first vessel that runs solely on renewable energy – to release an additional 10 sea turtles into the water by Jumeirah’s 2km private beachfront. These releases mark a total of 2,050 turtles successfully rescued, rehabilitated, and released to date. Throughout the year, many are nurtured back to health and released, and you can get to watch this on Jumeirah Al Nassem. My two-year-old toddler loved the experience, she came up close and saw all the turtles in white boxes patiently waiting to return to their natural habitat. When they were released, we saw them paddle out to sea. Usually, Jumeirah hotel guests and some other selected invitees are welcomed so we were so grateful to be part of the beautiful experience watching them set off into the sea after being rescued and rehabilitated.
If you’ve ever walked around the lagoon at Jumierah Al Nassem (by the restaurants on the lower ground floor) you would have seen the turtles there. These turtles are the ones that have been nursed back to health after being vulnerable to pollution such as toxic metals, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs a group of manmade chemicals), petroleum products, and agricultural and industrial runoff of contaminants such as fertilisers, chemicals, nutrients, and untreated waste.
All the turtles housed at the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project were at one stage sick or injured. What happens is that these turtles are rescued from members of the public and brought to Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office or to the Aquarium team at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. The team there closely monitors their recovery and once they are fully recovered (after giving medicine and undergoing surgery where necessary) they’re then transferred to the state-of-the-art Turtle Rehabilitation Sanctuary at Jumeirah Al Naseem.
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project is dedicated to the conservation of these precious marine creatures. It’s currently the only project of its kind in the Middle East and Red Sea region. The project was established by Dubai's Wildlife Protection Office to rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the wild any sea turtles found sick or injured in the region. Its focus is to educate local children, citizens and international hotel guests about sea turtle biology and the local and global plight of the sea turtle. And its plight helps tourists and people living in Dubai to understand the success of rehabilitation and to research turtle movements throughout the region and beyond. They even have a satellite tracking initiative.
Recently the DTRP has signed a memorandum with Fujairah Environment Authority and the Fujairah Research Centre (under the patronage of H.H. Mohammed Bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah) for turtle rehabilitation, research, and ecosystem restoration to strengthen awareness and support the UAE’s ongoing conservation efforts. It’s a move to emphasise the importance of protecting the UAE’s unique marine ecosystems. For those of you that are unaware of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Fujairah is one of the emirates which has a beautiful coastline. It’s only just over an hour away from Dubai by car and certainly worth a visit if you haven’t been before.
The agreement, signed by H.E. Aseela Al Moalla, the authority’s Director General, will see the three entities undertake mutually beneficial cooperation in sea turtle rehabilitation, research, and habitat restoration. The 800TURTLE (800 887853) hotline is the project’s dedicated toll-free number for members of the public to call in the event they encounter a distressed or injured sea turtle. For those in Fujairah, callers can now not only be directed to Dubai, but they will be directed to the Fujairah Research Centre to ensure help is at hand to rescue the turtles. The hotline has been a great success and enabled them to respond and treat sick and injured sea turtles quickly and effectively. The project ambassador Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan bin Khalid Al Qasimi who set 800TURTLE up last year in 2021 has donated several transmitters. He has been integral to the ongoing success of the project.
Barbara Lang-Lenton Arrizabalaga Director of Aquarium at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah said, “We are delighted to share that most animals this year have come to us through the toll free 800TURTLE number. We can see from the tags that several turtles spend prolonged periods of time in protected areas, including Ras Al Hadd in Oman and several habitats in Abu Dhabi." All of this is critical information for providing food and shelter for sea turtles, and it is great to see the positive impact the UAE’s marine reserves are having on turtle rehabilitation.
To support ongoing research and conservation efforts, one of the Green turtles, recently released, was fitted with a top-of-the-range satellite transmitter, donated by the Dubai Mall Aquarium, to allow the team to track and capture key information. Recent data from previously tagged turtles, including ‘Nacar’ a large Loggerhead, and ‘Farah’, a 20-year-old Green sea turtle, who were both released last year, has shown the incredible distances covered by these creatures, while demonstrating the importance of protected marine habitats for the UAE’s local sea turtle population.
So far, in the UAE, annual rescue figures average over 100 sea turtles, the most predominant species tended to in the facility include Hawksbill and Green turtles, while Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles are also occasionally brought in.