In its current form the project consists of a collaborative effort between Dubaiâ€™s Wildlife Protection Office (WPO) and the Jumeirah Group. It evolved from a small-time operation using fish quarantines, available locally for the occasional turtle stranding, but in 2010 alone, over 350 turtles have passed through the project and have been released into the sea. At the outset of the collaboration, the co-chairman of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group was brought in by WPO to ensure that the project followed best practice guidelines in terms of turtle handling, rehabilitation and release protocols.
Sea turtles received consist of three species, The hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata, the green Chelonia mydas and the loggerhead Caretta caretta. Although we have received turtles up to 150Kg, by far the majority of the cases we receive are juvenile hawksbills of around 1kg in weight. An ever-increasing local awareness of our project has led to more turtles being received by the project, primarily in the season from January to April, when local waters can be down to 16C. Many of the turtles passing through our hands are due to the efforts of Emirates Marine Environmental Group, TDIC and Dubai Municipalityâ€™s Environment Section, as well as contributions from individuals.
Central to the success of the project is the veterinary work provided by our colleagues at the Dubai Falcon Hospital. Original contributions and protocols for turtle receipt and treatment from Peter McKinney in the late 90â€™s have subsequently seen contributions from numerous successive veterinarians. Mirjam Hampel has recently left us for work in Europe, but in her time with the project she contributed enormously to the development of the project. Some of our combined work may be viewed in Wildlife Middle East articles, available online. We have also been joined by Valentina Caliendo, who brings to us her experiences of working with cold-stunned individuals in the Mediterranean and Adriatic and most recently Conor Kilgallon who is now offering his veterinary expertise.
Dubaiâ€™s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) provides support in terms of pathology, bacteriology and follow-up blood work.
Although much of our work is behind closed doors, Jumeirah Group has donated two large penned areas located at Madinat Jumeirah, which are used by the project as pre-release pens. This provides an important chance to observe behaviour of the turtles immediately prior to release. It also provides a first-class interface between the public and the turtles, contributing greatly to local awareness. In excess of 1000 school children visit the project annually and receive guided tours and information on the turtles.
The release pen is furnished with an artificial reef donated by Amusement White Water. This provides environmental enrichment to the animals within, and allows us to observe the turtleâ€™s forage behaviour.
The Jumeirah Group has also provided all funding for the eleven satellite tags deployed to date. This provides us with the very exciting opportunity to monitor our turtles post-release. Our 2008 release, Dibba, brought fascinating data back, on its travels from UAEâ€™s East coast to the last known position close to Thailand (8600km). We choose to share all this information via Seaturtle.org in order to contribute to the growing awareness and knowledge of turtle behaviour.
The day to day project management is from Wildlife Protection Officeâ€™s Kevin Hyland and from Burj al Arabâ€™s Aquarium Management Warren Baverstock and David Robinson.