A turtle rehabilitation group is preparing for an influx of ill and injured animals washing up on the UAE’s beaches.
Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project has urged anyone who finds an ill or injured turtle, which can be spotted by the growth of barnacles on their bodies, to get in touch.
Barnacles are a sign a turtle is unwell, as healthy animals can keep their growth under control.
“When a turtle is sick, they are unable to clean themselves, which is what leads to this excessive growth of barnacles, which slows them down, weighs them down, and in their weakened state they are prone to washing up, which is where you will find them,” says a post on the group’s Facebook page.
Turtles often wash up at this time of year when the sea cools, which can lead to a condition called cold stunning. It occurs when cooler waters cause the metabolism of a turtle to slow, leading to a decreased heart rate and low blood circulation, which can result in lethargy and pneumonia.
“After the bumper nesting season earlier in the year, we are unfortunately expecting a lot of these as we move into winter. The team is ready for their arrival,” said the group.
It urged people not to attempt to remove the barnacles themselves, as the process can hurt a turtle if it is not done properly.
In 2017 the group shared a picture of a juvenile Hawksbill turtle which had been injured by a member of the public who tried to remove a barnacle from the reptile’s back.
“The carapace and plastron of the turtle are soft, and this is a small and fragile animal, by forcibly removing the barnacles this can cause not only external damage but internal damage too,” said the group on its Facebook page.
“We receive a lot of 'cleaned' turtles where well-meaning people have removed the barnacles and put them back in the sea. This only delays the inevitable and these turtles usually wash up again a few days later, but this delay in treatment and damage from barnacle removal has resulted in many mortalities.”
Anyone who sees a turtle covered in barnacles should get in touch with the group via their Facebook page or by calling 04 301 7198, said the group.
Of the seven species of turtles found in the world’s oceans, five can be found in the UAE. All seven are all listed between Vulnerable to Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
There are estimated to be only around 8,000 nesting hawksbill females left worldwide.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment revealed a plan to help protect the turtles that inhabit the UAE’s waters.
The three-year National Plan of Action for the Conservation of Marine Turtles in the UAE aims to improve protections and reduce threats, which include abandoned fishing nets, plastic debris and other pollution as well as the destruction of turtle habitats through coastal developments, desalination and climate change.