Marine biologists are hoping a giant Green Turtle fitted with a tracking device can provide information to help stop its species dying out in the Gulf.
The 150kg reptile was discovered last February off a beach near Jebel Ali’s Palm construction site. Veterinarians think the turtle, which has been named Jade, could be up to 80 years old. Warren Baverstock, aquarium manager at the Burj al Arab, said Jade was critically ill when she was found but after seven months in rehabilitation she was healthy enough to be returned to her home in the Gulf. “When she was brought in to us she was very dehydrated. She was recovered from just 12in of water. That is called positive buoyancy,” he said. “She also had an infection, which we had to take care of as well.”
Although sick and injured turtles, both Green and the smaller Hawksbill, are regularly found along Dubai’s coastline, Jade is one of the biggest rescued so far. She has been fitted with a satellite tracker that will help researchers monitor her movements and learn more about the Gulf’s endangered turtles. “Last year we tagged a turtle that weighed 80kg. We released that on the east coast of the UAE and the data we got back over seven months was incredible,” Mr Baverstock said. “It swam over 8,600 kilometres. That was the second-largest migration recorded on satellite of a Green Turtle. It went from the East coast of the UAE to Thailand. “The last record we have is that it is somewhere near the Andaman Islands. So although it would be great to have the same sort of data, we don’t know what we will get back until we release the turtle. This turtle is very healthy so we are really hoping for some exciting feedback.”
The number of sick and injured turtles being cared for by Jumeirah’s turtle rehabilitation project is rising. Environmentalists blame the relentless construction work along the UAE coastline. Tonnes of rock, sand and sediment dredged up form the sea bed have destroyed the sea grass beds where Green Turtles feed and breed. Some studies claim water quality has also deteriorated and the fragile marine ecosystem is struggling to cope. And the man-versus-nature conflict does not end there. Increased boat traffic means the turtles are more at risk from propeller injuries. Kevin Hyland, one of Dubai’s leading wildlife protection experts, insists more research is needed before any conclusions can be reached.
“One of the factors that has changed over the years in Dubai is we have much more man and nature contact simply because there are more of us, that’s indisputable,” he said. “Whether or not that is because of significant change in environment we can’t say at this stage. “When I was first here the beaches were under-utilised, very few people walking on the beaches and as a result of that, the chances of a sick or wounded turtle being found were remote. “It takes probably 20 years for a turtle from hatchling stage to reach maturity and return to its native breeding beach. “Now it doesn’t take too much imagination to see this beach front has changed hugely in 20 years.”