Step inside the lobby of the world’s most luxurious hotel and you’ll discover a magical interior comprising 24-carat gold leaf, rare Statutario marble and two vibrantly coloured aquariums featuring 50 species of fish. (Look closely and you may even spot the resident zebra sharks.) There is however much more to these reef-like displays than first meets the eye. Guests may be surprised to learn that this hotel is also home to one of the region’s longest standing corporate social responsibility initiatives: The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project DTRP).
(Check out this awesome video of the turtle hospital, courtesy of What’s On magazine, when we invited the team behind the scenes.)
Behind the aquariums, a small team of seven, including two marine biologists, work tirelessly to rehabilitate the turtles that are rescued on a weekly basis from the shores of the Arabian Gulf. To date, 1,090 turtles (many critically endangered hawksbills) have been rescued by the DTRP and returned to their natural habitat, a fact that makes the team incredibly proud.
Warren Baverstock, Aquarium Manager, explains: “All seven species of marine turtles found globally are listed as vulnerable to extinction, endangered or critically endangered. The hawksbill turtle, native to the Middle East, is listed as critically endangered with only an estimated 8,000 nesting females left worldwide.”
The project began in 2004 when the Wildlife Protection Office realised the need for a turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility when members of the public started to find stranded turtles. The project based at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and Madinat Jumeirah is now in its twelfth year. It is run in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office and veterinary support is provided by the Dubai Falcon Hospital and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory. The day-to-day running of the project and the animal husbandry is managed by Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s dedicated aquarium team.
The types of debilitation the turtles have are varied. Some are injuries caused by entanglement or ingestion of plastic waste discarded into the sea while others are sick rather than injured and can have abnormally heavy barnacle growth on the carapace or ‘shell.’ Once a turtle has been assessed, it can start its road to recovery. There are five quarantine facilities at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah for the initial stages of treatment and a large outdoor enclosure at Jumeirah Mina A’Salam. This larger enclosure allows the team to monitor the final stages of rehabilitation before the turtles are released back into the UAE’s waters.
To help the team understand the project’s success and to research turtle movements throughout the region, a satellite tracking initiative is in place. Valuable data is recorded and the technology once tracked a turtle that travelled an amazing 8600km in nine months – almost reaching the coast of Thailand. At the latest release on World Sea Turtle Day (16 June 2016) hotel guests and children from the Dubai British School witnessed 96 critically endangered juvenile hawksbills, one juvenile loggerhead, two juvenile greens and one large adult loggerhead being released. Six were fitted with small satellite tags including: Beau, an adult male loggerhead; Cousteau, a juvenile loggerhead; Alpha and Angelo, both juvenile greens; Ali and Pawee, both juvenile hawksbills. Beau was named by the children from the Dubai British School and the tag was sponsored by Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. The remaining tags were sponsored by the Dubai Mall Aquarium as part of an ongoing turtle conservation collaboration agreement.
The tagging initiative shows the project not only affects these populations on a regional and national level but also on an international level and allows the team to investigate the success of the rehabilitation protocols and integration of the animals back into the wild.
Purpose built turtle lagoon
The project is set to gain some impressive new facilities when Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel opens later in 2016. This will be the first hotel in the world to feature a sea-fed and specifically designed outdoor lagoon for rehabilitating critically endangered sea turtles. The lagoon will be set amongst lush landscaped gardens carefully designed taking into account local aspects such as native species, water consumption of plants and trees and features which are typically part of Emirati life. Guests as well as school children on educational trips will be able to conduct feeding sessions and learn about the turtles and native fish from the lagoon’s discovery trail and observation island.
Read more on The National: Dubai schoolchildren take part in release of 100 turtles at Burj Al Arab