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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

A TREASURED PROJECT | The DTRP Celebrates 10 Years

There is a very special place in Dubai, where a small team of dedicated professionals, work together for the protection and rehabilitation of injured and sick sea turtles. On June 16th, they celebrated their 10th year anniversary of operation, by organising a very special sea turtle release. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) focuses on educating visitors about the plight of the sea turtle within the UAE and the region, including current threats and about the rehabilitation that takes place within the project.

In celebration of 10 years of continued success, 110 critically endangered hawksbill turtles were released back into the wild from the Burj Al Arab’s private beach that Monday morning. The turtles released, had washed up with varying illnesses on UAE beaches earlier in the year and had been brought into the project for treatment. A handful of hotel guests, local media and a group of Emirati school children from the International School of Choueifat in Dubai, were invited to be part of the official release. One of the project’s aims, is to involve children in the releases to raise awareness about turtle conservation within the younger generation.

The project runs in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office, and with the veterinary support from both, the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory. It is the only project of its kind at present in the Middle East, and the Red Sea region adept at carrying out rehabilitation for endangered sea turtles. The DTRP has so far successfully released 692 of their rehabilitated turtles back to sea and continue to do so. To investigate the movements of the turtles they receive after they are released back into the wild, satellite tracking devices are sometimes sponsored and attached to some of the animals to help to understand their ecology. This initiative has so far shed a lot of light for the teams’ curators to fully understand the life that these turtles lead.

Warren Baverstock, Aquarium Operations Manager at Burj Al Arab, commented, “With a long sea-faring history, sea turtles have long been recognised as an important part of Arabian culture and as such they are heavily protected by law in the region as declines in populations have been recorded by scientists. I am delighted to be part of such an innovative project which is at the forefront of sea turtle rehabilitation protocols and veterinary procedures”.

All the hard work and effort that the team have put in over the years is starting to produce results. The sea turtles that are found are brought in to the DTRP by members of the public such as yourselves, who hand the turtle to the DTRP team and give a description of the symptoms that they think the turtle is suffering from. It has happened, on more than one occasion, that freshwater terrapins and tortoises have been mistaken for sea turtles, but the DTRP team are unable to deal with these exotic pets. Once the sea turtle has been registered into the DTRP, intensive examinations, veterinary treatment and husbandry support are given and the sea turtle is monitored throughout its recovery until it is deemed fit enough to be placed into the outdoor enclosure at Mina A’Salam hotel before its release back into the wild.

Once the turtles are placed into the outdoor enclosure they are subject to stardom and the opportunity is taken for educational talks and demonstrations to raise the public awareness about their biology and plight. These talks are open to the public and take place every Wednesday at 11am and Fridays at 1pm at the turtle enclosure next to the Al Muna restaurant, located in the Mina A’Salam Hotel. A DTRP team member presents a talk to the guests explaining the work done and answering any questions they may have. The guests also get to participate in feeding the turtles, which is especially rewarding for the younger participants that get to don the feeding gloves to dish out the buffet of greens and squid to the hungry turtles below.

Aneesh, our jovial host leading the talk on my morning’s visit, explained how it is crucial that if we find a sea turtle that is covered in barnacles, to not attempt to remove the barnacles attached to the turtle’s carapace in any way. The turtles’ shells are incredibly sensitive and it will only cause more injury or worse, death in some cases. Through professional care, the turtles are placed in fresh water up to 2-3 days in the DTRP until the living barnacles die and then the team are able to progress with the safe removal of the remnants, cleaning the carapace and monitoring the turtle’s health in the process.

The largest turtle to have been tagged and released by the DTRP was Jade, a Green turtle that had weighed a whopping 150kg. Jade had a satellite tag attached to her and initially only travelled as far as Jebel Ali, where she was actually found. After a period of time, Jade then made a sudden dash for the Iranian coast in the Strait of Hormuz and then travelled back to her favourite spot in Jebel Ali; an amazing demonstration of the ability of sea turtles to navigate so precisely. Dibba, another green turtle that was satellite tagged, weighed in at 80kg and swam the farthest of any turtle released by the project, an amazing 8600km all the way to the coast of Thailand. Dibba was tracked for nine months until the tracking device’s battery ran out of power and the communication was sadly lost.

The DTRP is only one part of the Burj Al Arab aquarium teams daily duties. There are also all the aquarium specimens that make up the core foundation of the Burj Al Arab Aquarium and that have been under constant care and supervision since the opening of the hotel. The aquariums were refurbished back in 2012 with the design and purpose to improve and upgrade the living standards of the inhabitants. The zebra sharks are a number one attraction and a great pride as they are born and bred in the hotel through a process called parthenogenesis, a method of reproduction that doesn’t involve a male; a scientific discovery made by the aquarium team themselves.

As the years go on, so does the growth of so many of the larger fish, and they sometimes have to be moved into a larger aquarium space in either the Dubai Mall or Atlantis, The Palm Hotel and Resort. There are many precautions to be taken and the quarantine period is put into place for the fish to adapt to their new surroundings. There is a lot of background work done in order for the transition to be a success and put as little stress on the animal as possible.

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