x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Endangered sea turtles rescued from Jumeirah beach in Dubai

Coast guards have rescued about 25 endangered sea turtles from a beach in Dubai.

Provided photo of some of the turtles that were rescued from a beach in Jumeirah. The turtles are now at the Burj Al Arab´s rehabilitation centre in Dubai.
Provided photo of some of the turtles that were rescued from a beach in Jumeirah. The turtles are now at the Burj Al Arab´s rehabilitation centre in Dubai.

DUBAI // About 25 sick sea turtles are being treated at a rehabilitation centre after they were rescued from a beach in Jumeirah last week.

The weak, malnourished hawksbill and green sea turtles, all of them less than a year old, were rescued by coastguards and taken to the Burj Al Arab rehabilitation unit, the municipality said yesterday.

This is the largest group of turtles in the authorities’ records to have washed ashore.

“There was a build-up of barnacles and algae on their bodies,” said Mohammed Abdul Rahman Abdulla, the head of the municipality’s marine environment and wildlife section.

“This slowed down their movements and they could not feed. This is a one-time record when so many were found together.”

Nearly all of the washed-up reptiles were hawksbill turtles.

The juveniles – 15 males and eight females – were found to be heavily debilitated, dehydrated and covered in barnacles with underlying bacterial infections. They were also malnourished.

The gender of the remaining two is yet to be determined because barnacles had covered their plastrons, the ventral part of a tortoise’s shell.

“Though most were observed to be active, it was evident that their apparent condition was taking its toll on their dehydrated bodies,” said Mr Abdulla.

Specialists at the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project in Burj Al Arab said the reptiles would have probably died if they had not been rescued.

“Some of the worst affected are having their blood screened and are being X-rayed,” said Warren Baverstock, the aquarium operations manager at the centre.

Last year more than 450 sick and injured turtles were taken to the centre, and about 250 of them  were released back into the sea. Of these, municipal inspectors rescued 13 hawksbill and one green sea turtle.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an authority on the conservation status of species, lists the hawksbill turtle as “critically endangered”, the highest risk category.

The green sea turtle is classified as “endangered”, or threatened, by the IUCN and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

The centre in Dubai receives turtles throughout the year, but the number increases from December to April, when the weather is particularly cold and the water is rough, Mr Baverstock said.

Since the start of this year, more than 125 turtles, including a 95-kilogram loggerhead, have been taken to the rehabilitation unit. The turtles, including those recently rescued, might take a couple of years before they are ready to be released back into the sea, Mr Baverstock said.

The unit also tracks the movements of some of the turtles after release.

“We install satellite tags on some of the larger green turtles … to monitor their whereabouts after we have released them back into the wild,” said Kevin Hyland, the wildlife protection officer at the rehabilitation unit. “One of them has made it as far as Thailand.”

The municipality yesterday urged residents to report sightings of injured or sick turtles that have washed ashore.

“Time is critical … people should call experts and authorities,” said Mr Abdulla.

He said beaches in Jumeirah, Jebel Ali and Ghantoot were popular nesting sites for the hawksbill and green turtles.

pkannan@thenational.ae