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Endangered Hawksbill turtles hatching on Saadiyat Island

Tracks spotted by resort employees leads to discovery

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Two resort employees spotted hundreds of baby turtle tracks on the beach of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, which led them to the discovery that endangered hawksbill sea turtles were hatching on the island. The duo were quick to alert the environment team of the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) which monitors the turtles under its Hawksbill Sea Turtle Conservation Programme.

“We’ve been checking the beach first thing every morning since the nest was laid,” said Shiva Kumar, from the Leisure & Spa team for St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Abu Dhabi. “TDIC gave us training on what to look out for and how to identify turtle tracks, and they told us that it took between 50 and 60 days for a turtle nest to hatch.”

Kumar and beach lifeguard Sunil Shetty, both from India, were the first to spot the turtle hatchlings, said a press release issued by TDIC yesterday.

“Shiva and I were conducting our routine morning beach check, and suddenly we came across hundreds of tiny turtle tracks making their way from the dune area to the shore,” explained a thrilled Shetty. “It really makes you happy to see; we’ve been keeping an eye on the nest for the past two months and making sure it remained protected — so in a way we feel like those little turtles were part of the family.”

The workers assisted TDIC’s environment manager Millie Plowman to record a full inventory of the nest as part of the official monitoring programme, which began early in 2010 and has to date recorded 650 successful turtle hatchings on Saadiyat Island.

“We now have another 65 successful hatchings to add to our records,” said Plowman. “This is a fairly normal result for a nest of around 80-100 eggs, as some of the eggs don’t fully develop while in the nest. “Once one egg hatches, the entire nest hatches and it’s quite a spectacular sight if you’re able to witness a brood of baby turtles popping their heads out of the sand after burrowing their way up from their underground nest. The baby turtles then make their way to the shore, orienting themselves in the dark by the glow off the water. Once in the water the baby turtles swim for a full 24 hours to get as far away from the shore as possible, powered by the reserves of the egg yolk they’ve ingested. Then they just float amongst the currents to be taken out into deeper waters to mature.

“We’re not really sure how they spend their time out in the deep seas, but we do know that female turtles return to the beach where they were born around 30 years later to nest,” Plowman said.