First nests of Olive Ridley Turtle discovered in UAE

By Eudore R.Chand

SHARJAH 21 June 2020: The first evidence of Olive Ridley turtles breeding in the UAE has been announced by Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA).

Classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the Olive Ridley turtle is the second-smallest and most abundant of the world’s six marine turtle species.

A turtle hatchling was recently observed and photographed crawling towards the sea from the beach of the Kalba Kingfisher Retreat, in Sharjah’s East Coast enclave of Khor Kalba, an EPAA announcement said. The Kingfisher Retreat is situated in the Alqurm Protected Area, which covers 500 hectares, including a tidal lagoon, a forest of mangrove (Qurm) trees and a beach facing the Gulf of Oman, said Wam.

The Alqurm Protected Area, declared as a Nature Reserve by Emiri Decree No. 27 of 2012 issued by H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, is also home to one of the world’s rarest birds, the local sub-species of the Collared Kingfisher.

After receiving a photograph of the turtle hatchling, EPAA Chairperson Hana Saif Al Suwaidi said, the Authority sent an inspection team to search for evidence of nesting.

“The team located several tracks on the middle and upper part of the beach, leading them to conclude that multiple turtles did successfully hatch and made it to the sea.” Al Suwaidi said.

Green and Hawksbill turtles

Previously, only Green and Hawksbill turtles were known to breed in the Emirates.

Welcoming the discovery, Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, Shurooq, developers of the Kingfisher Retreat, commented that: ” thanks to the relentless efforts of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority, (it) reflects on Sharjah’s global status in restoring, preserving and protecting its rich natural habitat and infrastructure, further contributing to the global protection of endangered wildlife and promoting responsible environmental change.”

Shurooq, he pointed out, has been partnering with EPAA since 2009 in the development of eco-tourism projects like the Kingfisher Retreat. Such projects, he said, are “part of Shurooq’s mission and vision to harness and promote Sharjah’s rich heritage and natural histories, as well as responsible tourism experiences, allowing visitors and tourists to engage and learn about the importance of preserving and sustaining wildlife for a better environmental future.”

Full size 2 feet long

Growing to a length of around 61 cm (2 feet) in carapace length, the Olive Ridley turtle is found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but also in the Atlantic. Studies in Mexico have shown that the species has a normal weight range of between 25 kg to 46 kg, rarely reaching over 50 kg.

Historically, the Olive Ridley turtle was subjected to heavy commercial exploitation, with one million being harvested off the coast of Mexico in 1968 alone. While conservation efforts have largely ended commercial exploitation, the total global population of annual nesting females is estimated to have fallen to around 2 million by 2004 and to around 850,000 by 2008.

Continued threats include the collection of eggs, killing of adults on nesting beaches, incidental capture in fishing gear, vessel strikes and ingestion of marine debris.

The species is best-known for its behaviour of synchronised nesting in large numbers, known as ‘arribadas’. The majority of the Indian Ocean population nests on beaches in the Odisha (Orissa) area of India.

Dubai releases 65 Hawkbill turtles into the sea

DUBAI: Jumeirah Group’s Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project celebrated World Sea-Turtle day on 16 June with the release of 45 fully rehabilitated Hawksbill turtles, and an additional 20 hatchlings from Emirates Marine Environmental Group’s Jebel Ali Reserve.

The release was attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, who participated in the release of the hatchlings from the shore, as well as the larger animals directly into the sea via boat.

Each of the 45 rehabilitated turtles have spent the last few months being treated for various ailments including cold-stunning during winter, plastic ingestion, and injuries requiring surgery. The Hawksbill-Turtle forms part of the three-year National Plan of Action for the Conservation of Marine Turtles in the UAE, fully supported by the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitations Project. Launched by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, the plan aims at expediting laws to protect turtles. Hawksbills are especially important to Coral Reef health as they forage on and keep sponges in check, which out-compete corals. Pressures on nests, juveniles, and adults have led to rapidly declining numbers, and it is thought that there are less than 8000 adult nesting females globally, a reduction of 80% in the last century.

“The rehabilitation process starts with critical care at the facilities at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, then progresses to the state-of-the-art, sea-fed turtle rehabilitation lagoon, where the turtles acclimate to ambient conditions, and build up fitness levels prior to release back into the wild”, shares Gerhard Beukes, the Director of Aquarium Operations and Animal Husbandry at Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project. He goes on to add, “Amongst the turtles released was a hatchling that washed up on World Sea-Turtle Day last year, weighing only 11 grams. She has since come on leaps and bounds, increasing her weight tenfold, which now gives her a much better chance of survival. “

The team has now successfully returned over 1,900 turtles to the Arabian Gulf from all over the UAE since its inception in 2004, with an average rescue of 225 turtles in recent years. The main species tended to at the facility are Hawksbill and Green Turtles, with occasional Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles, brought in by members of the public and conservation focused partner organizations. All turtles are taken directly to the Aquarium team at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah by members of the public or with the assistance of local conservation organizations, where they are cared for, with their recovery process carefully monitored in addition to veterinary examinations, administering of medication and surgery when needed

Following the success of all treatments, and a sustained positive progress in the condition of the turtles, they are transferred to the turtle lagoon at Jumeirah Al Naseem. Here, the team can monitor the final stages of rehabilitation before the turtles are released back into their natural habitat after been given the all-clear.