DUBAI // In 2008, a 40-kilogram green sea turtle was found floating with near-fatal injuries off the coast of Jebel Ali.
But through the efforts of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP), she was yesterday released into the sea from the beach at the Mina A'Salam hotel as hundreds of onlookers cheered.
The turtle, named Emerald, was taken to within 15 metres of the water in a crate and pointed towards the sea, but just lay there, seemingly in a state of disbelief.
Dr Mariam Hampel, who nursed her back to health, looked on in tears.
"When she was found, she was floating on the surface of the water, she was weak, dehydrated, thin and close to death," said Dr Hampel, a German who works at Al Wasl Veterinary Clinic.
"The injury was filthy and infected with algae growing in the massive crack in her belly. She was barely hanging on to life in the water, positively buoyant, unable to dive."
Kevin Hyland, a DTRP member from the UK, worked with Dr Hampel to nurse Emerald back to health, along with staff from the Burj Al Arab Aquarium, the Jumeirah Group, the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.
"We did blood-work analysis on her when she came in, then I was off to a chandlery to buy screws, epoxy and wires so Mariam could close the gash in Emerald's shell," Mr Hyland said.
"We thought she was well enough to be released a year ago but then the positive buoyancy returned and we thought we were going to lose her."
Among the hundreds watching yesterday were a group of 40 orphans from the Zayed Foundation for Humanitarian Care, and Faye Gordge, 32, from the UK, who named Emerald in a competition on DTRP's Facebook page.
Emerald began to slowly make her way to the water after hesitating for a few minutes.
As observers cheered and clapped she slipped below the surface and was gone. Where she is off to is anyone's guess, but if she is anything like Dibba, a turtle previously released by DTRP, she may swim thousands of kilometres to Thailand.
From tomorrow, her movements can be tracked by the public at the website seaturtle.org, thanks to a GPS transmitter strapped to her back and sponsored by the Burj Al Arab hotel.
Five younger turtles were also returned to the sea yesterday from the beach. DTRP has released about 400 turtles so far this year. Warren Baverstock, the Burj Al Arab Aquarium's British manager, asked that anyone who sees a turtle washed up on shore looking sick or covered in barnacles should call the aquarium at 04 3017198 to report it.
"We have a large turtle-rehabilitation facility at the aquarium where the turtles receive treatment when they first come in," said Mr Baverstock.
"Then once they are better they are taken to the holding tanks at the Mina A'Salam hotel, where visitors can come view them on Wednesdays at 11am and Fridays at 1pm."