Concern. Weighed down by barnacles, scores of hawksbill turtles wash up ashore during winter months. If left untreated, many of them could die Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI Over 60 hawksbill sea turtles are being treated at the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project Centre (DTRP) after washing up on UAE shores with Cold Stunning – a condition arising due to prolonged exposure to cold waters.

“Turtles are cold-blooded and do well in warm waters. In winter, their metabolism drops and some of them take ill. They have a decreased heart rate and low blood circulation leading to lethargy, pneumonia and possible death,” explained Warren Baverstock, aquarium operations manager at the rehab centre, based at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah and run in collaboration with Wildlife Protection Office, Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.

Baverstock said turtles must also contend with parasites during winter. “These parasites grow aggressively all over the turtle’s body, forming barnacles and preventing their mobility. In some cases the parasites weigh as much as the turtle itself. That is a huge burden to carry,” he said.

Critically endangered

Arabella Willing, marine biologist, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas, said at least three sick turtles wash up on the Saadiyat Beach every week. Hawksbill turtles are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. “Last winter we rescued 100 turtles. When we find a sick turtle, we put it in fresh water to kill the parasites. All turtles that wash up on the beach are sent to the rehab centre,” said Willing.

Baverstock said people should not try to remove the barnacles as it requires special skills. “Some people use screwdrivers, knives and scissors to get rid of the barnacles. This hurts the turtle and causes infections. When you see a turtle covered with barancles, just bring it to us.”

DTRP can be contacted at 04-301 7198