Abu Dhabi: A total of 200 stranded and cold-stunned sea turtles have been rescued from Abu Dhabi waters since the start of the year, and rehabilitated to good health by environmental experts.
The rescue efforts have been undertaken by the emirate’s environmental sector regulator, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), in collaboration with The National Aquarium (TNA). The rehabilitated turtles are currently housed at the aquarium, and they will be released back into ocean when the waters are warmer.
“Through our partnership with the aquarium, we have been able to rescue and rehabilitate a number of turtles to ensure the longevity of several different turtle species found in Abu Dhabi waters. Furthermore, after releasing a large majority of these turtles back into their natural habitat, our specialised research team is monitoring them on a regular basis and frequently studying their behaviour and habits,” said Ahmed Al Hashmi, executive director for terrestrial and marine biodiversity at the EAD.
Rare turtle rehab
“As part of our efforts, we are very pleased to include the rehabilitation of an Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, a species rarely seen in UAE waters. This is a sign of the abundance of our biodiversity, which we aspire to conserve so that future generations can enjoy it for decades to come,” he added.
Due to the increasing number of turtles that continue to be stranded in Abu Dhabi’s waters every year, EAD is now ramping up its efforts to further protect and conserve native wildlife. It has now added more manpower and is investing in the building of state-of-the-art facilities, reinforcing the commitment to provide more efficient and effective rehabilitation for rescued local wildlife, especially sea turtles.
According to the EAD, about 300 turtles are found stranded on the emirate’s shores every year because they have become cold-stunned during the cooler months. This is a normal hypothermic reaction experienced by marine reptiles when they are exposed to cold waters for prolonged periods. The cooler temperatures cause them slow down their body processes, and makes them weak and inactive. They can therefore become stranded, and find their shells infested with barnacles, which further inhibits their moving.
After cold-stunning has occurred, there is usually only a short period of time when marine turtles can be safely rescued, and requires marine expertise. The EAD, therefore, regularly issues alerts at the start of winter, urging residents to report stranded turtles.
“Sea turtles are amongst the most migratory animals on the globe, and two of the seven marine turtle species found worldwide frequent Abu Dhabi’s waters - the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle and the endangered Green Turtle. With over 5,000 sea turtles residing in Abu Dhabi and a huge number of turtles arriving on a yearly basis, we want to continue providing the finest care possible for these animals,” said Beatriz Maquieira, curator at The National Aquarium.
Wildlife Rescue Programme
In 2020, the EAD signed an agreement with the aquarium to launch the Wildlife Rescue Programme, a mission dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing native wildlife in Abu Dhabi. The programme has led to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of several species of turtles back into the Arabian Gulf, including rarely seen Loggerhead turtles, and the ongoing and successful rehabilitation process of their most recent rescue, an Olive Ridley Turtle, the second-smallest of all sea turtles found in the world.
Last year, a total of 250 sea turtles were rescued and rehabilitated, with 150 released back into the ocean. Three of the released turtles were also satellite tagged to allow for the monitoring of turtle activity and health. Additional release events took place last summer.
The current group of 200 rescued turtles will soon be released into the Arabian Gulf, the EAD said.