Rescued Turtle Number Quadruples

DUBAI - When an 8kg turtle now known as Cracky missing its tail and the rear part of its shell came onto Dubai’s shores, it was brought to the turtle rehabilitation unit at Burj Al Arab to recover where the number of recuperating turtles quadrupled this year.

By Emily Meredith

Published: Sat 25 Apr 2009, 1:30 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 9:17 AM

Cracky’s injuries, the result of a suspected fight with a shark, are an anomaly. While the rehabilitation centre has seen turtles with traumatic injuries, most notably one named Dibba with damage to its head, the majority brought to Burj Al Arab (BAA) are weak from cold winter water temperatures.

The Arabian Gulf normally provides a warm habitat for the turtles to feed and nest, but when the temperatures fall, some turtles, particularly ones less than a year old, go into shock, becoming almost immobile.

When they stop moving, barnacles grow on their shells, weigh them down and make feeding difficult.

“We have to jump in the tank and we have to force feed them,” said David Robinson, an aquarist with Burj Al Arab said. “That’s 90 per cent of the battle.”

The aquarium received 87 turtles this year, 84 of which were the endangered hawksbill turtles. According to data published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), there are just8,000 breeding female hawksbills leftin the world.

While the marine environment off Dubai’s shores has undergone massive changes in recent years, the environmentalists and aquarists working with the rehabilitation centre attributed the increase to wider public awareness about how to handle sickand hurt turtles.

“I started working at EMEG (Emirates Marine Environmental Group) last year and realized that turtles were washing along shore,” said Rima Jabado, the director of marine programmes at the Group.

“I thought it was a one-off thing.”

The hotel aquarium works closely with the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG) and Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office (WPO).

This year it received its two largest turtles, a 106kg and a 150kg green turtle. When turtles started washing up again this year, the EMEG published notices with contact phone numbers and increased the beach patrols at Jebel Ali, which hosts one of the remaining coral reefs off Dubai’s coast.

Years ago, residents who found washed up turtles would call WPO’s Kevin Hyland. Hyland recalled going down to the beach late at night and then leaving turtles in his bathtub overnight until he could get them into an aquarium. Three years ago, Jumeirah offered the extra tanks it originally used to prepare fish for entering its aquarium for use in rehabilitating the turtles.

After a turtle is brought in, Hyland takes them to the Al Wasl Veterinary Clinic to get checked. Many have infections or are anaemic, Robinson said. At the rehabilitation unit, they might receive antibiotics to fight infection or anabolic steroids to increase their metabolism if theywill not feed.

“A lot of people who disagree with our use of antibiotics would say it was weak anyhow,” Hyland said.

Critics of widespread antibiotic use say the drugs eventually help create superbugs doctors do not have cures for, but the philosophy at the centre is to take as many measures possible to help the individuals recover.

Even with antibiotic and drug use, some turtles are unable to recover. Any turtles that die in the centre are taken to the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory where Dr Ulrich Wernery performs autopsies.

Werney said most deaths both this year and in previous years were caused by malnutrition or trauma from well-meaning people trying to removethe barnacles.

“Barnacles sit on the skull and they get very heavy and they cannot properly breathe,” Wernery said. “The animal is not able to feed enough. They were very emaciated and very thin.”

Now that the weather is warming, Hyland, Robinson and their colleagues take the turtles to a small enclosure at the Madinat Jumeirah where they can swim in seawater but can still be observed in case theirhealth beginsto deteriorate.

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