Our Neighborhood's Biodiversity Map

* Please click the continent to see the endangered species of our neighborhood.
Middle East
Hawksbill turtle off the coast of Saba * To See the original image, please click the image
Shared by : Mohit Talreja, Arushi Madan (UAE)
Region : Tropical reefs of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans
Status : Critically Endangered
Hawksbills are important inhabitants of coral reefs. By consuming sponges, they play an important role in the reef community, aiding corals in growth. It is estimated that one turtle can consume more than 454kg of sponges per year. Without the turtles, sponges have the ability to overgrow corals and suffocate reefs. The Hawksbill turtle, native to the Middle East, is listed as critically endangered listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

The hawksbill turtle has declined in population worldwide by around 80 per cent and are critically endangered. These are found in the UAE’s beaches especially on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi that is a regular nesting ground for them. The hawksbill turtle may take decades to mature and first breed at 20 to 40 years of age. Upon reaching sexual maturity, the female typically lays up to five clutches of around 100 to 140 eggs in a single breeding season. They wait a few years before nesting again. Probably less than one out of 1,000 eggs survive and reach adulthood. Habitat Hawksbill turtles are mainly found in the clear, relatively shallow water of coastal reefs, bays, estuaries and lagoons with nesting generally occurring on remote, isolated sandy beaches. They are normally found near reefs rich in the sponges. Hawksbills are omnivorous and eat molluscs, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish. Hawksbills make incredible migrations in order to move from feeding sites to nesting grounds, normally on tropical beaches. Mating occurs every two to three years and normally takes place in shallow waters close to the shore. The nesting procedure begins when the turtles leave the sea to choose an area to lay their eggs. A pit is dug in the sand, filled with eggs, and then covered. At this stage the turtles retreat to the sea, leaving the eggs, which will hatch in about 60 days. The most dangerous time of their lives comes when hatchlings make the journey from their nests to the sea. Crabs and flocks of gulls voraciously prey on the young turtles during this short scamper.
The hawksbill turtle is estimated to have declined in population globally by around 80 percent in the past century. One of the major causes for this has been through hunting for its shell, which is the ‘tortoiseshell’ that has been widely used in jewelry and ornaments. Rising water levels also risk washing away nesting habitats, putting further strain on their survival. While not unique to Abu Dhabi or the UAE (they’re migratory creatures found in over 60 countries) the beaches here, especially on Saadiyat Island, are regular nesting grounds. Action: The Hawksbill Sea Turtle Conservation Programme monitors and helps ensure construction in the Saadiyat Beach area is not harmful to the site. The project hopes to tag up to 75 turtles to gather information on their movements in the sea in order to better understand how to look after them.

The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is based at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah and is run in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office, with essential veterinary support provided by the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory. The project has been running in its current form since 2004 and has so far seen the release of over 560 rescued sea turtles back into Dubai’s waters. In 2011 alone over 350 sick or injured sea turtles have been treated by the DTRP after being washed up on the regions beaches. The DTRP is currently the only project of its kind in the Middle East and Red Sea region.
Hawksbill turtle is categorized as critically endangered. Hawksbill eggs are still eaten around the world despite the turtle’s international protected status and they are often killed for their flesh and their stunning shells. These graceful sea turtles are also threatened by accidental capture in fishing nets. The unusual shell of the Hawksbill turtle, often called the "tortoise shell" is commonly used to make jewelry and hair ornaments. The harvesting of the Hawksbills shell for these decorative items is the greatest threat to the species.
The decline in number is due to: 1. Loss of excessive egg collection 2. Fishery-related mortality 3. Pollution, 4. Coastal development 5. Nesting and feeding habitats due to rising water levels, 6. Illegal wildlife trade Ecosystem Hawksbill turtles are vital for the preservation of coral reefs. Coral reefs are among the greatest storehouses of biodiversity on Earth as these are home to 25 per cent of all marine species. Growth of corals increases by consuming sponges by hawksbill turtles. Sponges have the ability to overgrow corals and suffocate reefs.
Without exception, all of the turtles found in the DTRP were at one stage very sick or injured. Turtles are brought to Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office or to the Aquarium team at Burj Al Arab by members of the public where the team closely monitor their recovery. During the recovery process, the animals are subjected to ongoing veterinary examination and monitoring, with appropriate medication or surgery being administered as necessary. Once the team is satisfied with the progress and condition of the turtles, they are then transferred to the Mina A’Salam turtle enclosure. Animals that are already too weak to benefit from the treatment regime and succumb to their illnesses are sent to the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory where a full post-mortem examination is carried out to determine the cause of death.

The large enclosure at the Mina A’Salam allows the team to monitor the final stages of rehabilitation before the turtles are released back into UAE territorial waters. The types of debilitation are varied, some are injuries caused by entanglement or ingestion of plastic waste discarded into the marine environment. Some are sick rather than injured, normally manifested by abnormally heavy barnacle growth on the carapace or ‘shell’. Turtles are reptiles and as such are cold-blooded, gaining their body heat from the surrounding environment. Young turtles in particular are therefore negatively affected by cold sea temperatures experienced within this region during the months of December, January and February which is when the majority of sick turtles are found.

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