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Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release: Abu Dhabi gives new lease of life to sea turtles

Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release: Abu Dhabi gives new lease of life to sea turtles
6 June 2024 23:46


Fifty-seven rehabilitated sea turtles found their way back to their natural habitat on Thursday, thanks to the collaborative rescue effort between the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), The National Aquarium, and the Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue Center.

The release event took place on the beach of Jumeirah Hotel on Saadiyat Island in the UAE capital, marking the culmination of the Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release Program initiated by the EAD in 2016.

With over 1,200 turtles rescued since its inception, this programme underscores the EAD's commitment to preserving marine biodiversity, Dr. Hind Al Ameri, Specialist in Marine Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation at EAD, told Aletihad.

Dr. Al Ameri emphasised that the conservation efforts led by EAD include post-rehabilitation satellite tracking, aimed at safeguarding these endangered species and maintaining ecosystem balance.

Speaking with Aletihad, Thomas Kaferle, General Manager of SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi with the Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue Center, provided insight into the rehabilitation process. From initial rescue operations to comprehensive veterinary assessments and rehabilitation procedures, each step is meticulously executed within a 10,000-square-metre facility equipped with state-of-the-art resources.

"Our veterinary team assesses the turtles, conducting X-rays or even CT scans for severe cases. Once their needs are determined, they are placed in holding pools for rehabilitation. When ready, we coordinate with EAD to release them back into their natural habitat," Kaferle said.

The urgency of these conservation efforts stems from the crucial role sea turtles play in ecosystem dynamics. As Dr. Al Ameri reiterated, these majestic creatures are integral to maintaining balance in marine ecosystems.

Prominent Risks Facing Sea Turtles

Kaferle highlighted cold stunning as a primary threat faced by sea turtles in the region, due to temperature fluctuations, which can cause sea turtles to become cold and stunned, impacting their ability to swim, and feed. Paul Hamilton, General Manager of The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi, leads the Wildlife Rescue Program, a partnership between the EAD and The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing native wildlife in the Emirate.

Its overarching goal is to safeguard natural treasures for future generations. Hamilton affirmed that although cold stunning is a common issue facing sea turtles, they are highly recoverable through rehabilitation efforts.

However, he noted that sea turtles face other risks, such as injuries from fishing equipment, entanglement, or entrapment, often requiring surgical interventions that may involve amputations.

Plastic ingestion is another major concern, according to Hamilton. "We have quite vast amounts in our storage of plastic that were removed from the stomachs of turtles. Once they ingest it, it's very hard for them to get it out of their body again. And they get what's called gut impaction, which means the whole stomach is full of plastic, preventing them from carrying out the normal task of eating and digesting."

Community Involvement Vital for Rescue Efforts

Hamilton emphasised the vital role of the general public in sea turtle rescue efforts, as they are often the ones to initially identify turtles in distress. Without community involvement, it would be challenging to locate and rescue these turtles.

"All these people on beaches and out on boats in the water are our eyes and ears, helping us identify the animals that need help," Kaferle said, noting the importance of capacity building in the region to enhance rescue efforts through building partnerships and cultivating a responsive community.

Al Ameri said that people in the UAE can contribute to these rescue efforts by knowing how to respond when encountering a sick or injured turtle. She noted that many rescues have been possible due to public awareness and prompt reporting to the concerned authorities, ensuring swift action to provide the necessary care for the turtles.

An Endangered Species

Hamilton noted that sea turtles boast remarkable longevity and reproductive habits, reproducing only in specific areas over extended periods. This unique requirement renders them highly vulnerable to disruption, particularly from human activity such as beach alterations or climate change and food chain disturbances.

"They're an endangered species and their numbers are dropping, so whilst numbers are dropping, it's critical that every animal that can be saved is rehabilitated and put back out into the wild so that they can contribute to the recovery of the species."

Educating the Public

As part of its commitment to raise awareness about the numerous threats facing sea turtles, Hamilton noted that the National Aquarium offers the public a glimpse into the rehabilitation process of approximately 230 turtles.

This unique opportunity allows visitors to witness turtles at various stages of recovery, from the newly arrived to those ready for release back into the Arabian Gulf.

Guided tours lead guests through each phase, providing insight into a year's worth of rehabilitation efforts. "It typically takes us about a year to rehabilitate a sea turtle. They are very slow to get sick, very slow to get better," he said.

Kaferle SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi with the Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue Center are actively spreading awareness through social media, disseminating posts to reach a wider audience, in addition to organising beach cleanups and conducting science talks to engage the community in sea turtle conservation.

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