Abu Dhabi, 5/20/2013 11:00:00 AM - The Environmental Services team at the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), master developer of major tourism, cultural and residential destinations in Abu Dhabi, has spotted the first sea turtle nest on Saadiyat island, marking the start of this year's nesting season.
The critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles will now start to nest on the destination's beachfront and will be under the observation of TDIC's environmental services 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, will be clearly marked to ensure hotel guests and staff don't disturb them. Hatching is expected within 50-70 days.
The 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 has taken serious steps to ensure the protection of Saadiyat's coastal dune system and the safety of the hawksbill turtles that come to shore every year to lay its eggs. As a result, TDIC restricts 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. Part of the Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Programme, this ensures that the turtles continue to nest even during the construction and operations of projects on the island.
"It has always been our priority to make sure that Saadiyat remains a natural habitat for marine life. We are delighted that this is the case for the sea turtles that continue to come to shore to lay their eggs year after year. This goes on to show the success of our environmental programme, which surely wouldn't be made possible without the cooperation of our partners, residents and contractors and their willingness to adhere to the strict guidelines imposed by our environmental team," said Ali Al Hammadi, Deputy Managing Director at TDIC.
Since the start of the program in early 2010, some 650 eggs have hatched successfully on Saadiyat. Operational guidelines further protect the nesting sites by restricting beach access to pedestrians who reach the beach via elevated boardwalks, therefore preventing people from walking through the delicate dune system and potentially disturbing the nests.
"When the nesting season starts our main priority becomes to make sure that the sea turtles are not obstructed or disturbed when they land on the beach to dig their nests, lay their eggs and return to the sea," said Dr. Nathalie Staelens, Head of Environmental Services at TDIC. "Once baby turtles start to hatch, we then aim to make sure they all make it safely to the sea by ensuring there are no nearby light sources that could disorient them," she said.
Strong lights and noise may distract the baby turtles, causing them to head in the wrong direction and away from the sea. This has led TDIC to take further measures including lighting guidelines and assessments of operational developments, and a dedicated environmental resource that monitors and audits properties operating on Saadiyat. For example, during nesting season, night lighting is reduced to aid the baby turtles' orientation towards the sea; nests are logged and avoided by beach maintenance crews, and all beach furniture is moved off the beach at night.
TDIC also requests its residents on Saadiyat Beach to help ensure the continuation and safety of the turtles' nesting activities by asking them to switch off outdoor lights when they are not outside, close their curtains at night to minimise light spill, refrain from going to the beach after dark and avoid turtle tracks so they can be recorded by TDIC.
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.
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