| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Turtle power!

Come out of your shell and start talking about turtles, one of Dubai’s most-loved native animals. Time Out Kids joined the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project to get the inside scoop

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The seven-star Burj Al Arab might be one of the city’s most glamorous hotels, but did you know that tucked in the basement, underneath all the restaurants and guest suites, is a special sanctuary that looks after hundreds of sick turtles each year? The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is run as a collaboration by Jumeirah along with the Dubai Wildlife Protection Office, with veterinary support from the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.

With all seven turtle species on the endangered list, it’s a vital service for these lovable sea dwellers – and the project has even treated turtles that have been flown in from as far away as Doha. Most however, mainly Hawksbill and large green turtles, have been found washed up on Dubai’s shores, too weak to swim against the tides. ‘A lot of people aren’t clearing up their litter when they go to the beach,’ explains Warren Baverstock, Aquarium Operations Manager for Burj Al Arab. ‘When the turtles are looking for food, they’ll see a plastic bag floating on the surface, that looks and moves like a jellyfish, and they’ll consume it. We’ve also seen turtles with discarded fishing line tangled around their limbs – as they grow, they almost amputate themselves, it’s very sad.’

For people who find sick turtles on the beach, there is a special drop off point at Wild Wadi, with staff on hand seven days a week. From there, the turtles are treated following a set of protocols, from safely removing the barnacles that can grow on their shell when they’re slowed down by illness (this should Never be attempted at home, warns Warren), to treating infections with antibiotics and giving x-rays to see if there are any underlying causes.

Much like the guests at the hotel, the turtles get the VIP treatment: after quarantine and treatment at the Burj Al Arab, they’ll then be moved across to the Mina A’Salam Hotel, to one of the pools near the Al Muna and The Wharf restaurants. It’s a great opportunity for families to go and see the project’s work in action, says Warren. ‘We run an hour session on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Mina a’Salam. They’re completely free and open to anyone who wants to come along and find out more.’ With the Friday session coinciding with brunch, it’s a fun chance to watch the feeding sessions up close, with staff from the DTRP offering a behind the scenes insight into the work of the project, as well as giving general information on protecting these animals, which are native to the seas around the gulf.

Along with the weekly feeding sessions and talks, there’s plenty of other ways to get involved, too. Check out the information signs near the turtle pools at the Mina a’Salam, pick up a leaflet from the hotel concierge (available in English or Arabic), and don’t forget to log on to the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation), where there’s continuous updates on the project’s good work. If you would like your school to visit the turtle pools at the Mina a’Salam, teachers can email baaaquarium@jumeirah.com.

Throughout the year, the hotel also organizes hugely popular turtle releases on the beach, which right now are only open to guests of the hotel and those who have Beach Club Membership. ‘The releases are so much fun,’ says Warren. ‘The children line up to release the turtles and you watch as they scramble down to the shore. It’s not something you’d get to see every day.’

During each release, one turtle is fitted with a high-tech tag, which is used to track the animal as it swims through the seas. Everyone can follow the turtle’s progress online (check out the DTRP’s Facebook page for more details), and one even made it as far as Thailand! The tags are completely safe for the turtle, and are designed to stay on for up to two years, before they gradually detach as the animal grows. They enable staff at the project to find out more about this ancient animal, from where they swim to the water temperatures they enjoy at certain times of day.

‘We really want to spread a conservation message and also an educational one too,’ says Warren. ‘We want to open our doors for anyone who is interested in learning more about these fantastic creatures.’
Go to www.facebook.com/turtle.rehabilitation to find out more.

Time Out Dubai,

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