Exciting Turtle Tales from Saadiyat: Rescue Rehabilitate Release

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Posted by on June 1, 2017

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Jane Goodall


Turtles are a hot topic of conversation in the UAE at the moment which is partly due to World Turtle Day, held annually on the 23 May. Environmental groups celebrated this day by holding official events to release rehabilitated Hawksbill Turtles back into their natural ocean environment. Here in Abu Dhabi 49 Hawksbill Turtles and 1 Loggerhead Turtle were released at the beach at Emirates Palace and 12 Hawksbill Turtles at Saadiyat Island.

And did you know it is also nesting season…?

The UAE is home to a variety of turtles including The Hawksbill (Native to the Middle East), Leatherback, Green, Loggerhead and very rare Olive Ridely Turtle. The turtles which were released here in Abu Dhabi had been in the care of both the award winning Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) and a special centre on Sir Bani Yas Island.

What a privilege it was to be invited to such an event at the stunning location of Saadiyat Beach Club.

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As I was standing on the edge of the Arabian Gulf waiting for the moment the turtles were released, I took the opportunity #tojustbe and appreciate the beauty of this natural coastline. It certainly is easy to see the elements which make Saadiyat Island a very special part of Abu Dhabi.

Saadiyat Island oozes the unmistakable vibe of a luxurious Middle Eastern Resort. Permanent residents and visiting guests are welcome to embrace this lifestyle which is complimented by exclusive accommodation and beach clubs, exceptional dining, championship sporting facilities and a world class cultural precinct.

Spend some time getting to know Saadiyat and you will soon discover (and grow to love), the truly unique feature of this destination which is the naturally occurring and undeveloped dunes, coastal vegetation, wildlife and waves. The man-made beaches in and around the UAE are gorgeous but for me, nothing compares to swimming in and listening to the crashing sound of real waves as they roll into the shore.

On this day however, it was the turtles who stole the show!

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It is safe to say the official guests, students, teachers and media personnel who attended the turtle release event all had their hearts on their sleeves. We almost held our breath as we watched the turtles slowly, but surely, make their way along the sand and into the freedom of the ocean. The determination of these little guys was commendable and, as the waves rolled in to carry them ‘home’, you couldn’t help but let out a little victorious cheer for their courageous accomplishment.

This is not the first encounter I have enjoyed with the Hawksbill Turtles. We have also been privileged to have experienced a weekend at Madinat Jumeriah where we spent time observing these graceful animals in the on site rehabilitation pools which are open to the public. Seeing them on the beach at Saadiyat, fighting fit and ready to return to their natural environment, was definitely a whole new and uplifting experience.

Pensive nods from onlookers after the turtle release gave me the feeling we were all silently wishing them a safe and healthy future. It is a big wide ocean out there and the turtles now face daily challenges against both natural predators and human carelessness.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has the Hawksbill Turtle on their Red List and has declared the species as critically endangered. This has prompted Environmental Organisations here in the UAE to protect the local turtles by establishing rehabilitation programs and making it a priority to conserve their natural habitat, especially turtle nesting areas.


Eco Notes:

Did you know there is an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic currently in our oceans? In fact scientist are warning there will be more plastic than fish by 2050 if we don’t see some immediate change – can you imagine! That is the equivalent of one garbage truck worth of plastic going into our oceans every minute. Here are some suggestions on how we can #bethechange:

– Local UAE School Shares How To Hold a Successful Beach Clean Up
– Lunch Box Essentials to Simplify Your Life, Save You Money and Change The World!
– Starters Kit – 5 Reusable Items to Replace Single-use Plastic


The Saadiyat Island Turtle Protection Program

The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) is the master developer of major tourism, cultural and residential destinations in Abu Dhabi, which include Saadiyat Island. Their Environmental Services Team have established a Hawksbill Sea Turtle Protection Program dedicated to study the turtle’s natural behaviour and protect them when they are at their most vulnerable.

The turtles nesting season runs from April through to September and Saadiyat Island is one of the many islands in Abu Dhabi where they return to lay their eggs. Turns out the white sandy beaches and permanent low tides which draw a seasonal crowd to the area, are also the preferred nesting conditions of these loveable marine animals.

TDIC have strict guidelines in place on Saadiyat Island during nesting season in order to protect the safety and well being of the turtles. With the full support from their partners, residents and contractors they insure they are strictly observed. These include:

  • Informative signs placed around nesting sites and an awareness campaign initiated
  • Residents are asked to turn off night lights and close curtains in the evenings as bright lights are a distraction for turtles as they make their way from land to sea
  • Beach access is restricted after sunset
  • Loud noises also disorient the turtles so activities are closely monitored after sunset and beach furniture removed.

The Regulations are enforced during the incubation period which usually lasts for 50-70 days and seeing the return of the turtles year after year shows the continued success of the program.

Those visiting Saadiyat will notice and appreciate the dedication of TDIC to prioritise the protection of Marine Life and the Islands natural coastal environment. Development activities are prohibited within 60 metres of the beach and elevated wooden platforms are permanent structures to ensure the nesting habitats and sand dunes are not disturbed by foot traffic.

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It was such an incredible experience seeing the turtles being released and inspiring spending time with passionate like-minded people. Throughout the morning I was especially interested to learn more about the important role Saadiyat Island plays in the protection of turtles in Abu Dhabi. During the last four years of my sustainability journey I have been made aware of the effects plastic pollution has on our oceans and marine life but I had little knowledge of the environmental elements which directly affect the health and well being of the sea turtles.

Turtles are commonly found stranded on the beach in the UAE during the colder months (November-March), many with a build up of barnacles on their shells. The colder water slows down the turtles metabolism which makes them weaker and unable to regularly clean their shells, a routine which requires them to rub against the rocks. The extra weight from the barnacles makes the shell heavier and, as a result, is harder for the turtle to swim.

We have seen this first hand when Our Little Man rescued a sick turtle which he found swimming on the top of the water one day when we were out water skiing.

The recent update from the success of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project is200 turtles rescued, rehabilitated and released this year to date (May 2017) and an incredible 1300 back in UAE waters since the beginning of the project.

Now that really is something to celebrate!!

If I could leave you with one piece of advice it would be to contact your local authorities if you find a sick or injured turtle. Removing the barnacles yourself is definitely not recommended as many of these turtles have underlying problems or infections which need to be professionally treated.

Contact Numbers for any Sick and Injured Turtles Found in the UAE

If you are keen to stay in touch with all the ‘turtle action’ on Saadiyat make sure you pop over and follow the Instagram Account of @Arabella Willing. Arabella is a Marine Biologist employed to look after the turtles on Saadiyat Island and has provided us with two contact numbers to call if we find a sick or injured turtle:

TDIC in Abu Dhabi: +971 2 403 6393

If it is a small turtle covered in barnacles found in Abu Dhabi TDIC are the people to call. They will collect the turtle from any of the Saadiyat properties.

Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Centre:+971 4 301 7198

The facilities in Dubai are bigger, more advanced and are equipped to treat more complicated conditions.

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Having the opportunity to experience the release of rehabilitated turtles is definitely one of the highlights of my time in the UAE to date. It certainly was heartwarming to witness this positive result achieved by the dedicated environmental groups of the area.

Who else has been a part of one of these exciting turtle events here in Abu Dhabi, we would all love to hear all about your experience.

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2 Responses to Exciting Turtle Tales from Saadiyat: Rescue Rehabilitate Release

  1. Zeyna S. Mummy On My Mind

    What an amazing experience to witness! Very interesting to read all the facts too, thanks for sharing!

    • Shea

      An absolute highlight Zeyna, definitely an experience I highly recommend. 💚🐢

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