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Turtles will taste freedom today.

Dubai Rescued and rehabilitated hawksbill turtles are to be released back into the sea today in celebration of World Sea Turtle Day.

One hundred turtles were released earlier this year for Earth Day, and this week another 101 turtles will be returned to the Arabian Gulf by the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP), a collaboration between the Wildlife Protection Office and the Burj Al Arab aquarium.

Before their release the turtles are being kept in a new turtle pen at the Mina A'Salam hotel. Altogether 120 turtles brought back to health after being washed up ashore or handed in injured, are enjoying the specially built area.

The 19 turtles not released today are expected to taste freedom after the summer when another release will be scheduled, said Warren Baverstock, Aquarium Operations Manager, Burj Al Arab.

Some of the turtles are positively buoyant, meaning they float on the surface and cannot control their movements well enough to be released and be expected to survive, he said.

Fresh seawater is pumped into the pen daily and rocks have been placed in particular areas with an overhang to give the turtles somewhere to dive under, mimicking their natural environment.

Bigger space

"The new enclosure opened in March. With the increased awareness we've been receiving more turtles and needed a bigger space," said Baverstock. Around 360 turtles have been handed in so far this year, he added.

The awareness programmes run by the DTRP include free lectures and daily feedings for the public including schools.

Some turtles have been found with blood parasites and covered in barnacles, said Kevin Hyland from the Wildlife Protection Office. "Barnacles are not the cause of their problems, but rather are a symptom of what's wrong with them. When they come in they're anaemic, dehydrated, some even have pneumonia," he said.

Turtles that go through the DTRP are microchipped making it easy to track them if they wash up again. So far, none of the turtles released have returned, said David Robinson, Burj Al Arab assistant aquarium operations manager and member of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project team. "The turtles are all yearlings from last year. We take DNA samples to try and track where they are coming from," he said.

Up to 430 turtle nests have been located near islands off the UAE coast, he added. "The turtles seem a bit disoriented when they are initially released but they never come back."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jun 16, 2011
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