During cold weather, you may see these beautiful creatures on the beach.Nouran Salahieh tells you what you can do to help them
Found a sea turtle? Here’s how to help these endangered creatures.
We may be enjoying the cool weather, but local sea turtles, which are already endangered, are having a hard time, and are washing up on UAE shores. While this is common between December and February, when temperatures are at their lowest, it can lead to illness and death if the reptiles are not treated properly – which is why the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is calling on UAE residents to alert them if they spot a turtle in distress – instead of throwing them back in the water or trying to treat them themselves.
‘It’s the natural thing for people to think they’re helping,’ says Warren Baverstock, DTRP’s operations manager, ‘but it causes a lot of trauma for an animal that’s already sick.’
Since turtles are cold-blooded creatures, a decline in water temperature results in them not being able to clean themselves often, which results in barnacles making them heavier. That, combined with disease, can cause them to starve because they can’t dive down and feed. Several species of sea turtles wash up on UAE beaches, including green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, which are native to the Middle East.
Hawksbill turtles are listed as critically endangered, and on average, eight of them are found per day. According to David Robinson, DTRP and Burj Al Arab Aquarium assistant operations manager, ‘hawksbill turtles have had an 87 per cent population decline in recent years, all caused by humans.’
The turtles brought in to the DTRP are often encrusted with barnacles, missing limbs because of plastic entanglements, have punctured lungs, blood disease, or a number of other problems. There was once also a case that involved a turtle whose shell was cracked in half because of a boat accident.
Since 2004, the team of seven has returned over a thousand turtles brought in by members of the public and conservation organisations back to the sea. But they still need help from beachgoers to bring them found sea turtles. Turtles are first treated at the aquarium at the Burj Al Arab before being released into the sea or recovering at the lagoon at Madinat Jumeirah.
The most immediate way to help turtles is by refraining from littering at the beach. Turtles may ingest or become entangled in plastic waste, and end up dying or losing a limb. ‘It’s very common to lose a flipper because of plastic entanglement,’ says David, holding up a small turtle with a severed flipper.
Barnacles, caused by low water temperatures, can cause turtles to starve as they can’t dive down and feed