Dozens of baby turtles have been released back into the wild in Abu Dhabi at an event attended by hundreds of people.
Around 80 hawksbill turtles, which had been washed up on the beach in Saadiyat Island since January and are officially classed as endangered, were set free after spending the cooler months being cared for by conservationists.
It was estimated that around 500 people turned up to see them released, with the high attendance surprising organisers who had expected the event on Wednesday would be low-profile.
Young children were invited to help release the turtles, which were brought to the shore in plastic boxes and washed out with the tide.
“He was afraid at the beginning, but we told him the turtles wanted to go back home,” said Sara Al Naqbi, 28, whose five-year-old son Ahmed was one of those lucky enough to release a turtle.
“He gave it a name, he called it ‘my turtle’, and after that he really enjoyed it. It was great for the kids.”
The baby turtles are vulnerable to fluctuations in temperatures. The cooler waters over winter can cause their metabolism to slow, leaving them weak, and strong winds mean they can be washed up onto the beach.
Emily Armstrong, a marine conservationist working for Jumeirah Saadiyat Island resort, leads daily patrols on Sadiyaat beach and responds to public reports of washed up reptiles, with any sick turtles found taken care of by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency. Jumeirah, the hotel chain, invests in conservation as part of a social responsibility programme.
Turtles with superficial or minor injuries, or which need to be cleaned for algae or barnacles, are cared for in Abu Dhabi while turtles with more serious conditions are sent to a rehabilitation centre in Dubai.
After building up their strength, and assessed for their health, they are released back into the wild. A similar event will take place in Dubai on Thursday.
It was “reassuring” to see so many people were interested in wildlife, Ms Armstrong said, although she added that future release events may be more tightly managed.
“People love turtles and I appreciate that, I love turtles as well,” Ms Armstrong, 26, said. “I made sure to invite everyone who had found a turtle over the winter months and our marketing team told a few people, but it really just blew up.
“We don’t want to make these private events, because when we do this work it’s for everyone to enjoy. But next time we need to control it.”