Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) has previously tracked turtle migration by using satellite transmitters Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: The Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) recorded the first green turtle nest in one of the primary hawksbill turtle nesting sites in the Al Dhafra region as part of its annual turtle survey,

Although green turtles are widely found in Abu Dhabi waters, no nesting activity has been reported previously.

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Ahmad Al Hashmi

Ahmad Al Hashmi, Executive Director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector at EAD, said: “This discovery is considered an aberration and will be added to the records of green turtle nesting behaviour in the UAE and in countries along the Arabian Gulf.”

Around 6,000 turtles can be spotted in Abu Dhabi waters Image Credit: Supplied

He explained that although green turtles forage extensively on seagrass meadows in Abu Dhabi, no evidence has ever been found to suggest that they have nested in any other location within Abu Dhabi. “We have seen from previous satellite tracking studies on Abu Dhabi’s green turtles that the majority migrate to Oman to nest before making their way back to our waters,” he added.

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Al Hashmi said that the nest was found in an area characterised by multiple small beaches separated by rocky outcrops — a contrast to Oman’s long and wide beaches where green sea turtles nest in abundance.

“We also recorded 247 hawksbill turtle nests this year in comparison to 193 nests in 2022, with a 72 per cent hatching success. This is a sign of this species’ population stability in Abu Dhabi waters,” Al Hashmi said.

Four species of turtle in Abu Dhabi

There are seven marine turtle species found worldwide. Four species can be spotted in Abu Dhabi’s waters, with a total population of more than 6,000. The hawksbill and green turtle are predominantly found here, while the loggerhead turtle and the olive ridley turtle are considered occasional visitors.

In Abu Dhabi, most hawksbill and green turtles have been spotted off Al Dhafra between the islands of Abu Al Abyadh and Bu Tinah, as well as in the waters bordering the islands of Al Yasat and Muhayimat. These areas offer extensive seagrass beds, marine algae and coral reef habitats.

When is the nesting season?

Nesting takes place between mid-March to mid-June, and usually, more than 200 nests are reported during the season. Hatching usually occurs between mid-June to early August. Females are quite selective when it comes to choosing their nest site and have often been spotted emerging onto a beach for several consecutive nights before finding an ideal spot with soft sand, secluded from human activity.

Six marine reserves

EAD manages natural reserves through the Shaikh Zayed Protected Areas Network. Its six marine reserves represent 14 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s marine environment area. In 2022, UNEP named EAD’s coastal and marine ecosystem preservation and rehabilitation programmes among its top 10 global initiatives.

The agency has been researching, monitoring, and protecting marine turtles in Abu Dhabi since 1999.

Migration patterns

EAD along with its partners has conducted two studies to collect data on turtle migration through satellite transmitters. The projects successfully tagged 75 hawksbill turtles and 45 green turtles and revealed migration paths, important turtle areas and feeding sites.

Data related to hawksbill turtles identified important feeding areas in the waters of the Arabian Gulf and their temporary migration patterns from warm, shallow waters to cold, deep waters during the summer months. Data related to green turtle tracking also linked two areas, the feeding area in the emirate and the nesting area in Ras Al Hadd in Oman, and showed that green turtles covered distances ranging from 2,340km to 7,148km.