x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The Ali Column: How we can help preserve marine life

The hawksbill turtles have been listed as endangered species since 1996 and there is a great number on our beloved Bu Tinah island.

Being raised in Baniyas, we never became exposed to any of the marine life in our country, simply because we were living far away from the sea. The idea of having some of the most impressive turtles in the world living in our UAE water was something I would consider only in a fairytale. However, the health and well-being of our marine life is something we need to preserve.

Luckily, I've been blessed to have worked with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi as an environmental ambassador and have encountered many experts who work with, for instance, endangered species of turtles. They have shared their knowledge and experience with me.

I have learnt some interesting facts. For instance, the hawksbill turtles have been listed as endangered species since 1996 and there is a great number on our beloved Bu Tinah island, which is 30 kilometres away from Abu Dhabi's coast. Bu Tinah belongs to our region's first and largest protected area and is recognised by Unesco.

Mohammed Al Ali, a ranger, was able to take me to Bu Tinah and as I started filming the journey, we discovered a big black plastic rubbish bag floating on the water on our way to the island.

It was in that very moment that I started to realise how fragile the health and safety of the animals living in these waters really is. For a fish or turtle, the bag looks like food; and, to be specific, any plastic bag floating on the water surface would simply look like a jellyfish that will attract turtles to simply jump on it since they love jellyfish!

As a consequence, swallowing it would be fatal. Al Ali explained to me that big cargo ships dispose not only of their "exhaust" but also their "waste" into the sea and that these things happen despite the prospect of fines from the UAE government. Apparently, the problem is a major challenge for both the government and the rangers. Visitors need to be more responsible and, of course, a solid monitoring system should ensure everyone follows the rules.

Turtles are fascinating, peaceful, cautious, sensitive and smart reptiles. They eat from the corals and sea grass on the bottom of the sea. Surprisingly, the ideal temperature for the turtles is 24°Celsius but our water can reach up to 35°C. So, the cooler temperatures, plus the windy weather, are the reasons why they get washed up on our shores. So far, 350 turtles have been rescued this year and required "intensive care".

More than 200 turtles were born last year on the various beaches of the Bu Tinah reserve area. It takes two months for the baby turtles to hatch and, as soon as they return to the sea, their "dangerous journey of life" begins. Because there are dangers all around for these baby turtles from all areas - birds, foxes, crabs - these baby turtles are easy food targets.

Thankfully, our government is already stepping in with regulations and action, by declaring the areas as protected and also by supporting environmental activities. We all can get involved in helping the turtles so that they can continue to live in a safe environment. The more we raise awareness of their needs, the more we can guarantee their protection.