Since December 2010, the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) have received over 360 sick or injured sea turtles from the people of Dubai and environmental organizations such as EMEG. 90% of the animals washing up are juvenile hawksbill turtles between the weights of 200 and 500 grams. Similar events have happened on an annual basis since the project started in 2004 although this year the amount of animals is unprecedented. We attribute the annual ‘stranding’ of this particular age cohort of hawksbill turtles between the months of December and March, to be associated with but not entirely due to a phenomenon known as ‘cold stunning’. Turtles are cold blooded and as such gain their body heat from the surrounding environment. In Dubai between the months of December and March, the water temperatures can reach as low as 15 degrees. We think that these cold temperatures severely affect the juvenile hawksbill turtles as they are the main demographic affected by the cold water temperatures.
Almost without exception the turtles respond positively to intensive care, part of which involves elevating the water temperatures to up to 10C more than the ambient water temps in Jan. Frequently this alone prompts the turtles to start feeding and gaining condition. This supports the theory that the cold water temperatures are at least partially responsible for the onset of debilitation.
This year has been a particularly cold winter with lots of storms and high waves and prolonged periods of stormy weather without respite. On one day in January alone after a particularly aggressive storm, the DTRP received 45 turtles. We think that the harsh winter coupled with a good nesting year and increased awareness of the project are the main factors involved in the huge numbers of turtles we have received this year. Social media networks such as Facebook have allowed us to reach many people and raise awareness of the project to levels that were not possible only a few years ago.
Once the water temperatures warmed to ‘turtle friendly’ levels we started the release process of the animals back into the wild. On April 8th we joined forces with EMEG who have rescued over 75 turtles this season alone. We spent the morning with them and their guests and then released 40 juvenile hawksbills back into the wild from their Ghantoot reserve; an event that was enjoyed by everyone who attended.
On April 22nd the DTRP and Jumeirah Group organised a release for 100 turtles in celebration of ‘World Earth Day’. The event was attended by hundreds of people and 100 children were chosen to release the turtles back into the wild on the beach in front of the Burj Al Arab.
The juvenile hawksbills have stopped washing up now and we attribute this decline in strandings to the warming sea temperatures which allow the turtles to be able to thrive in their environment.
To date the DTRP have released 250 rehabilitated sea turtles back into the wild, 140 of those animals have been in 2011 alone. The remaining animals are still undergoing rehabilitation and can be seen at our public enclosure located at Madinat Jumeirah. If you find a sick or injured turtle then please call the DTRP team on 043017198. For more information visit www.jumeirah.com/turtles or visit us on facebook at www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation.