Turtle Nesting Season Begins On Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island
The original guests of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island – the now critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles – continue to nest on the destination’s sweeping beachfront with the first of the season’s nests being spotted in conservation areas in front of the spectacular five-star The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas.
TDIC’s Environment Manager, Millie Plowman gets excited about the first Hawksbill turtle nest
of the season being spotted at The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort.
The nests are now under the observation of Tourism Development & Investment Company’s (TDIC) environmental affairs team, as part of the company’s Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Programme, the only one of its kind in the Arabian Gulf. The nests, which can contain between 90 and 100 eggs, have been clearly marked to ensure hotel guests and staff don’t disturb them with hatching expected within 50-70 days.
The nine kilometre Saadiyat Beach plays host to several Hawksbill turtle nests every year. The Hawksbill is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, as its population has declined by more than 80 per cent worldwide over the last three generations due to habitat destruction and poaching.
TDIC’s Hawksbill turtle conservation programme has seen the company restrict resort development on Saadiyat Beach to at least 60 metres back from the seaward edge of the coastal dunes, creating a buffer zone which serves as a physical barrier between construction and operations and the Saadiyat Dune Protection Zone nesting beach.
Hawksbill turtle tracks
Hawksbill turtles nest on a number of islands in the UAE, with Saadiyat’s deep sand beaches and natural dune system beyond the high tide line providing them with a good nesting habitat. Just how long turtles have been nesting on Saadiyat is unknown, however after 30 years, breeding Hawksbill females return to their birth place to lay their eggs.
“The female turtles come ashore generally at night,” explained Millie Plowman, Environment Manager, TDIC, “and haul themselves with their flippers towards the dune zone. They then choose an appropriate place to dig their nests, just above the high tide. Once they lay their eggs, the turtles return to the sea. When the baby turtles hatch, they break out of their eggs approximately 50 centimetres underground and dig their way up through the neck of the nest to the surface and make their way to the sea.
“Strong lights and noise may distract the baby turtles, causing them to head in the wrong direction and away from the sea. However, even on the darkest beach, approximately 10 turtles from a nest are likely to go in the wrong direction. On Saadiyat, we aim to make sure that all the baby turtles make it to the ocean.”
TDIC is currently producing educational signage and information leaflets at the hotels and beach club on Saadiyat to promote the protection of the turtles among the island’s guests. Turtle information is being placed in hotel rooms and guest engagement is being encouraged through kids’ clubs on the beach.
“We are asking residents and guests to give these very special visitors the best opportunity possible to continue their nesting activities, which have been occurring on Saadiyat for millennia,” said Plowman. “This involves them switching off outdoor lights when they are not outside, closing their curtains at night to minimise light spill, refraining from going to the beach after dark and avoiding turtle tracks so that they are not disturbed and can provide data to the monitoring teams.”
Ten Things to know about the Hawksbill Sea Turtle
• They are named because they have a narrow head and hawk-like beak
• They can grow to between 2.5-3 feet long and weigh between 101 and 154 lbs
• They live in the tropical/subtropical waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
• They love rocky areas, coral reefs, shallow coastal areas, lagoons, and oceanic islands.
• They mainly feed on sponges, jellyfish and small invertebrates.
• Their nests can be found in more than 70 countries.
• They are critically endangered and their population is decreasing.
• The global Hawksbill turtle population has fallen more than 80% over the last 30 years.
• Their shells can change colour slightly depending on the temperate of the water
• They can live longer than 50 years