Yas SeaWorld Research & Rescue Abu Dhabi is now operational.
The 8,602-square-metre facility, the first to open outside the US, is an addition to SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, which is scheduled to open later this year.
The research centre was created with a focus on marine conservation and education, with the hopes of raising a new generation of conservationists and marine biologists in the UAE.
Describing it as the region's largest dedicated marine life centre, Mohamed Al Zaabi, chief executive of Miral, the property developer behind the project, says the site's key pillars are “research, rescue, rehabilitation and return”.
Collaborating with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the facility, with staff including scientists and veterinarians, will help with injured marine life in the region. People who spot an animal in distress can call 800 555 and depending on how severe the injury, it could be treated at the centre.
“Once we receive the call, we have all the equipment or vehicles ready to go to get those animals and bring them here,” Al Zaabi tells The National.
“We do what is needed to rescue at that time and return back to open water. I’m sure the centre will receive calls from other emirates and other countries to rescue.”
Dr Chris Dold, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment chief zoological officer, was also at the inauguration. He says the partnership between the two sides is promising because of the experience that staff from the US can bring over.
“The way our global network is going to work, we're figuring that out right now,” Dold tells The National.
“But what we have done is many of the people who are going to be working here on the rehabilitation side, that rescue side, have started their careers and had years, in some cases decades, working in our parks in the US, and so that bridging of expertise on behalf of rescue and rehabilitation is already here.”
While some SeaWorld sites in the US have been criticised over animal welfare concerns in the past, the focus in the UAE is on education and the transfer of knowledge.
The centre offers outreach programmes to "empower the UAE community to actively participate in conservation work", it states in its profile, and it has a 160-seat auditorium that can be used for events.
“We want to educate people about animal care, we want to get them to be more aware of marine life. So next time when they go for a fishing trip, before they throw plastic, they think twice,” says Al Zaabi.
“That's one of our goals we want to achieve. We want to raise the awareness of people living here in this country to be aware of animal care, and how we can be more careful about our marine life.”
Al Zaabi says the idea is for students, whether they are in nursery or PhD candidates, to become more knowledgeable when it comes to learning about sea creatures and the ocean. Only those invited or who make an appointment can visit the facility.
“We're very proud of bringing that knowledge to this region and hopefully [we will] transfer this knowledge to younger generations,” he says.