The Turtle is a flagship species for the conservation of the marine environment and is protected throughout most of the world. All seven species of marine turtles found globally are listed as vulnerable to extinction, endangered or critically endangered. The Hawksbill turtle, native to the Middle East, is listed as critically endangered with only an estimated 8,000 nesting females left worldwide. On a global scale the greatest threat to marine turtles are all caused by man.
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is based at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah and is run in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office, with essential veterinary support provided by the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.
The project has been running in its current form since 2004 and has so far seen the release of over 560 rescued sea turtles back into Dubai’s waters. In 2011 alone over 350 sick or injured sea turtles have been treated by the DTRP after being washed up on the regions beaches. The DTRP is currently the only project of its kind in the Middle East and Red Sea region.
The Goals of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project
The project was started after the need for a turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility was realized by the Wildlife Protection Office - after stranded turtles started to be brought in to them. The main goals of the project are:
- Rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the wild any sea turtles that are found sick or injured throughout the region.
- Educate local children, citizens and international hotel guests about sea turtle biology and the local and global plight of the sea turtle.
- To understand the success of rehabilitation and to research turtle movements throughout the region and beyond via a satellite tracking initiative.
Sea turtle recovery process
Without exception, all of the turtles found in the DTRP were at one stage very sick or injured. Turtles are brought to Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office or to the Aquarium team at Burj Al Arab by members of the public where the team closely monitor their recovery. During the recovery process, the animals are subjected to ongoing veterinary examination and monitoring, with appropriate medication or surgery being administered as necessary.
Once the team is satisfied with the progress and condition of the turtles, they are then transferred to the Mina A’Salam turtle enclosure. Animals that are already too weak to benefit from the treatment regime and succumb to their illnesses are sent to the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory where a full post-mortem examination is carried out to determine the cause of death.
The large enclosure at the Mina A’Salam allows the team to monitor the final stages of rehabilitation before the turtles are released back into UAE territorial waters.
The types of debilitation are varied, some are injuries caused by entanglement or ingestion of plastic waste discarded into the marine environment. Some are sick rather than injured, normally manifested by abnormally heavy barnacle growth on the carapace or ‘shell’.
Turtles are reptiles and as such are cold-blooded, gaining their body heat from the surrounding environment. Young turtles in particular are therefore negatively affected by cold sea temperatures experienced within this region during the months of December, January and February which is when the majority of sick turtles are found.
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