Abu Dhabi: A group of 10 rehabilitated turtles have found a new temporary home in a lagoon at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Their transfer to the waters surrounding the museum follows an agreement between the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) to create a pre-release turtle rehabilitation area at Louvre Abu Dhabi. The project, which is the last step of the rehabilitation cycle before the marine animals are released back into the sea, is an extension of the EAD’s Wildlife Rescue Program in partnership with The National Aquarium.
The agreement was signed by Saeed Al Fazari, strategic affairs executive director at DCT Abu Dhabi, and Ahmed Baharoon, executive director for environmental information science and putreach management at the EAD, and it aims to reinforce communication and cooperation between the involved parties. The National Aquarium will provide valued expertise from the Wildlife Rescue Program to ensure the sea turtle rehabilitation area operates to the highest possible standard, under the supervision and guidance of EAD, and supported by DCT Abu Dhabi.
Need for rehabilitation
The 10 turtles are part of a group that is expected to be released back into Abu Dhabi’s waters in 2023.
Reflective of the sea turtles’ natural habitat, Louvre Abu Dhabi was chosen as a suitable rehabilitation area for the marine animals to exercise and acclimatise in preparation for their eventual release. The area will be accessible to visitors, who can gain insight into the rehabilitation of the turtles through exhibits, workshops and curated events.
Marine wildlife provides balance and stability to the natural ecosystem in the UAE. The goal of conservation and rehabilitation efforts is to ensure the survival of Abu Dhabi’s abundance of important yet fragile marine species whilst educating the public on living sustainably alongside these creatures.
Endangered sea turtles
Paul Hamilton, general manager at The National Aquarium, told Gulf News that turtle rehabilitation efforts are aimed at slowing the decline of sea turtles, which are endangered around the world.
“Sea turtles in the Arabian Gulf get into trouble because of the swinging temperature of the waters, which can change about 10 degrees Celsius between summer and winter. [This is a huge range] for cold-blooded reptiles like sea turtles. Their survival is also threatened by water pollution, boat strikes, and the destruction of coral reefs,” Hamilton said.
This has prompted the EAD and The National Aquarium to launch its Wildlife Rescue programme, which routinely rescues cold stunned and injured turtles every winter, and rehabilitates them for release.
Further monitoring opportunity
“Many of the turtles we rescue require intensive care, and they are closely monitored and cared for at the aquarium. But for them, this is sort of like living in a hotel, without exposure to the conditions of coastal waters. We wanted a step to reintroduce them to the wild while also being able to monitor them, and this project allows for that,” Hamilton explained.
The lagoon at Louvre Abu Dhabi is 1,700 square metres, and the marine expert said more turtles ready for release will be transferred into it when they are ready. He also expects more turtles to require rehabilitation when the UAE cold spell in December and January leads to a sharp decline in water temperatures.
“Every year, we end up releasing about 200 rehabilitated turtles back into waters off Saadiyat Island just before summer starts. This particular project will help us determine the success of our rehabilitation efforts on the rescued marine creatures, and monitor how well they are doing when they have to search for food themselves and live in a bigger space,” Hamilton said.
500 turtles released
Abu Dhabi’s Wildlife Rescue programme has successfully rehabilitated and released more than 500 turtles over the last two years. Some of the creatures have also been satellite tagged to ascertain how well they do when back in the wild.
“The collaboration of government departments, environmental groups, and leading academics to work towards a common goal is a powerful formula for facilitating positive conservation outcomes. By signing an EAD, DCT Abu Dhabi is strengthening the strategic position of the emirate as a champion of critical sustainability issues. We are amplifying our ability to provide solutions to today’s challenges while collaborating with leading figures to benefit from new perspectives and to develop new solutions. By supporting this programme, which thus far has led to the rescue and release of more than 500 sea turtles, we are showcasing our conservation efforts and highlighting Abu Dhabi’s role in prioritising sustainable tourism-focused initiatives,” Al Gheziry said.
“We are very excited about this partnership with DCT Abu Dhabi for the establishment of a turtle rehabilitation area at Louvre Abu Dhabi. This project is a testament to the increased interest in environmental conservation and protection of our precious biodiversity by other government entities and highlights Abu Dhabi’s leading position as a centre for the propagation of species. The turtle rehabilitation area will be overseen by EAD, and operated by The National Aquarium, whose experts will help rehabilitate the animals before they are released back into their natural habitats so that they can grow and breed, leading to an increase in their numbers. We would like the whole world to see and learn more about our biodiversity, which is varied and abundant, and Louvre Abu Dhabi offers the perfect location to achieve this goal,” Al Dhaheri said.
“As a museum open to the sea, Louvre Abu Dhabi is committed to raise awareness on environmental sustainability and the preservation of the UAE’s natural ecosystem. It is a privilege for the museum to play a role in the turtles’ rehabilitation cycle, before they are released back into their natural habitat. This project is in line with the museum’s longstanding mission to honor our unique connection with the land and sea,” added Manuel Rabate, Louvre Abu Dhabi director.
The National Aquarium’s marine biologists will ensure the Louvre Abu Dhabi area operates at the highest level of safety, quality and professionalism in line with international benchmarks for best practice. EAD, as the main environmental regulator in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and an organisation with several rehabilitation programmes for the conservation of biodiversity, will play an integral role in this project, leading all turtle releases back into their natural habitats.
Additionally, as a partner in the project, DCT Abu Dhabi is playing a leading role in supporting eco-tourism initiatives catering to the essential conservation needs of protecting wildlife, and promoting biodiversity in the emirate.