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In United Arab Emirates, struggling sea turtles get a helping hand


Associated Press

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The baby sea turtle flapped its flippers as it was lowered into the ocean, only to be pushed back ashore by the strong tide. It tried again, and this time it made it, swimming fast and deep into Persian Gulf waters lapping at a string of beachfront tourist resorts.

Scientists hope the turtle will thrive back in its natural habitat, joining about 500 sea turtles that have been rescued, rehabilitated and released since Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency launched a program three years ago to aid turtles distressed by climate change and other issues.

In the latest release in early June, about 80 turtles were carried to the water’s edge by members of the agency’s Wildlife Rescue Program, joined by members of the community. Many were outfitted with satellite tracking gear to help scientists better understand migration patterns and the success of rehabilitation methods.

Turtles have historically been hunted for their meat and eggs, with their shells used in jewelry. But plenty of manmade factors figure into a decline in all seven sea turtle species.

“We see issues such as plastic pollution causing harm, vessel strikes, nets causing them to be entangled in them, and coastal development, which reduces the amount of nesting habitat they have available,” says Hind al-Ameri, assistant scientist at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

Climate change is a big contributor, researchers say.

Warming oceans harm coral reefs, which turtles need to survive, and shift currents to expose turtles to new predators. Rising sea levels diminish the beaches where the turtles nest and lay their eggs.

Abu Dhabi’s isn’t the only agency in the Emirates focused on aiding sea turtles. Emirates Nature-WWF launched a pair of marine conservation initiatives more than a decade ago, studying the behavior of the hawksbill and green turtles in the region.

And the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project has been helping sick and injured sea turtles for nearly two decades, rehabilitating and returning more than 2,000 turtles to the Persian Gulf in that time.

Scientists say they see evidence that the sea turtles are adapting to climate change.

Turtle gender is influenced by the temperature in which eggs develop, with warmer temperatures producing a higher ratio of female turtles. Al-Ameri said conditions in the United Arab Emirates have become so warm that the male population should be devastated — but it is healthy and reproducing.

“So it’s driving us to understand why our species are adapting the way they are and what it would mean in terms of climate change and would turtles be able to adapt to climate change in the future or not,” she said.

How the planet can limit global warming, and its damaging effects on sea turtles and the rest of the world, will be discussed at length in November when Dubai hosts the next United Nations summit on climate change.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Article Topic Follows: AP National News

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