'Turtle sheikh' urges UAE public to report injured creatures on hotline

14 turtles were released into the sea on Tuesday, marking the 2,000th release after rescue

Crowds gathered on a Jumeirah Beach early on Tuesday morning as 14 turtles, including an injured one rescued by Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi, were released into the ocean.

Two green sea turtles and one loggerhead, each weighing about 90 kilograms, were first to make it into the water as workers from the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project guided them towards the shore.

Eleven smaller turtles followed, with the final one noted as the 2,000th to be recused and released by the team since 2004.

Farah, who was affectionately named by Sharjah's Sheikh Fahim after he found her tangled in a fishing line nine months ago, led the way.

These turtles have been around since the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth. But humans have come in and endangered them
Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi

“When I found Farah and saw how badly injured her flipper was, I honestly never thought she’d be fit enough to be released into the wild again,” Sheikh Fahim said.

“The team that helped her worked so hard and got her swimming, diving and thriving in the water again. That’s when I knew she had a chance.

“Saying goodbye today has been bittersweet. I’ve loved watching her progress over the past nine months and because we have a tracker on her, I’d love to see her return to the place we found her.”

The turtle, aged around 20, was found struggling to free herself from a dumped fishing line off Sir Bu Nuair, a protected area 100 kilometres west of Dubai.

Sheikh Fahim dived seven metres down to rescue her. After the animal was handed over to the Dubai Falcon Hospital, Dr Panos Azmanis attempted surgery but was unable to save her flipper.

“You know, these turtles have been around since the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” Sheikh Fahim said.

“But now humans have come in and endangered them. As we celebrate the release of 2,000 turtles, which is a credit to the whole team involved, I can’t help but think 2,000 is too many.

“We can’t control certain things that endanger or risk the health of turtles, like barnacle growth or cold stunning, but we need to respect these animals more.

“Slow down and be careful. This is their habitat you are playing in.”

During Tuesday's release, it was announced that for the first time the public can now also play their part in helping protect marine life in Dubai, especially turtles.

A hotline has been set up where people can report a sick or injured animal by calling 800 TURTLE.

Barbara Lang-Lenton, director of the aquarium at the Burj Al Arab hotel where the rescued turtles were rehabilitated, on Tuesday said there has been an uptake in the number animals coming into the centre.

“Most of the turtles we receive are sick and many of them are just yearlings,” she said.

“They get cold stunned in the winter months and barnacles grow on them, which reduces their ability to move because of the additional weight.

“But we are seeing more and more come in that have been impacted by plastic pollution in the ocean and many that have been hit by boats and jet skis.

“One turtle we treated had its carapace — which is the top shell — cut completely in half. She won’t be able to be released back into the ocean, sadly, because it has effected her buoyancy.”

Over the years, the team has released 64 turtles into the wild with GPS tracking devices.

One turtle ventured an astonishing 8,600km in nine months, ending up in Thailand.

Cared for by a team of people at the aquarium under the Burj Al Arab, the turtles are then transferred to the lagoon at Jumeirah Al Naseem, before they are released into the ocean.

Some turtles have been under the care of the project for more than 10 years, while others are released within three months of being rescued.

Updated: October 19th 2021, 9:40 AM