In celebration of World Sea Turtle Day which falls on June 16th, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) launched a large and diverse group of previously rescued turtles back into Abu Dhabi’s waters via the beach at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, so they may return to their natural habitats.

The released group came from a batch of 150 turtles that the EAD is currently rehabilitating at the National Aquarium. From this diverse group, a loggerhead, a hawksbill and a green sea turtle were selected to be fitted with satellite tracking devices fixed to their shells, allowing the Agency to monitor their progress and collect data about their lifestyles and migration paths.

H.E. Major General Staff Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Commander-in-Chief of the Abu Dhabi Police and member of the Agency's Board of Directors, and Her Excellency Dr. Sheikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD attended and participated in the launch event.

The turtles’ release is the final step in their rescue and rehabilitation process, significantly increasing their chances of survival. The remaining turtles are currently being rehabilitated by the National Aquarium (TNA), following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the EAD and TNA in 2020. Since then, the collaboration has resulted in the successful rescue and release of over 250 turtles, with the remaining turtles being cared for by the National Aquarium for future release. 

The turtles were initially discovered and rescued from the UAE’s shores by the Wildlife Rescue Team, a rescue and rehabilitation program developed by both parties, dedicated to preserving the health and welfare of the region’s wildlife. The team supervised the monitoring and rescue of these turtles from the coasts of the Emirate. Once fully recovered, the sea turtles were transferred to the beach at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas in preparation for their return to the wild.  

A majority of the turtles that were rehabilitated had severe barnacle infestations on their shells, which caused slow movement, malnutrition and dehydration after entering a state of hibernation during the winter period, as turtles are cold-blooded reptiles and are therefore easily affected by a decrease in water temperature. In addition, some turtles were rescued after becoming entangled in fishing nets. 

On this occasion, Her Excellency Dr. Sheikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD said: “We in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are proud of the efforts made to protect sea turtles and the continuation of the rescue and rehabilitation programs since 2005. I am pleased to witness the success of this year’s programme, which was a collaboration with our strategic partners - the National Aquarium, where we launched the largest rehabilitation center for wildlife and marine life in the region. Since 2015, our tireless efforts with partners and the public, have helped us rescue, rehabilitate and successfully release hundreds of turtles, and we are excited to now track their release back into their natural marine environment.”

Her Excellency added: “We named one of the turtles that we are currently tracking “Amal” (Hope); it is a green turtle that lost one of its front fins after becoming entangled in an abandoned fishing net. It was called Amal because of the meaning of the name, which means optimism and an aspiration to live despite harsh circumstances.”

Her Excellency also elaborated: “Our on-going research on critically endangered species is a top priority for us which, along with our ongoing efforts, allows us to better understand and protect our environment.” 

Fouad Mashal, CEO of The National Aquarium said: “We are immensely proud of our collaboration with EAD to help the Emirate of Abu Dhabi preserve its natural treasures. Sea turtles are an essential part of our ecosystem but are also an endangered species. As a result, successfully rehabilitating a large number of turtles is a critical component in our mission to sustain and conserve the species.” 

He also added: “Since the signing the MoU last year, we have worked closely with EAD in the past year to save as many turtles as possible by rehabilitating and releasing them back into their natural habitats. Fishermen, residents, a number of government agencies, the private sector and public benefit associations have contributed to the great efforts of rescuing the turtles in collaboration with EAD’s team, which ensures the turtles are rehabilitated and released as soon as possible so that they can easily re-adapt to being in their natural habitat again.”

EAD has been researching, monitoring and protecting marine turtles in Abu Dhabi since 1999 and has succeeded in maintaining a stable population in our territorial waters across the emirate.  Abu Dhabi waters are home to more than 5,000 sea turtles, both green and hawksbill turtles. The main threats faced by turtles are net entanglement and boat collisions. EAD has been rescuing and rehabilitating turtles since 2005 and has rescued more than 700 since during this time.