Bon Voyage Baby Turtles

When I look back at the absolute best days of my life, they were all spent outdoors, in nature - one of these must have been last week, when Katie, her boys and mine were invited to EMEG. Have you ever been to the Emirates Marine Environmental Group?  It oversees an enclosed 25 square-kilometer beachfront Jebel Ali Sanctuary adjacent to the Palm, Jebel Ali. On that very same beach 60 baby turtles had broken free from their shells in the early morning hours. I don’t know how we were so lucky to be the ones to release them, to introduce them to their new home: the Gulf.

Before setting the newborn turtles free, Major Ali Saqr Sultan Al Suwaidi, President of EMEG, spoke to us about the importance of preserving marine ecosystems, particularly endangered species such as the sea turtle. He explained why it’s important to set the turtles loose several meters back from the water as opposed to directly into the water. Remarkably, these tiny creatures make a mental map of the beach as they scurry towards the ocean, breathing in the air and smelling the sand. This allows the females to return many years later, in the Hawksbill turtles’ case 30 years later to the very same beach where they hatched! Nature can be mind blowing sometimes!

EMEG staff patrol the beaches and look out for females nesting, stepping slowly and precisely among the mounds of eggs methodically buried. Females lay around 100 eggs every 2-3 years in a pyramid shape, alternating layers of eggs with a layer of sand. 80% survive to the hatchling stage, but only 10% are estimated to make it to adulthood.  The eggs are then placed carefully in deep holes, protected by plastic enclosures and again by a large fenced area. These precious eggs have numerous predators: foxes, birds and dogs. The struggles they will face are tremendous. Did you know that the temperature of the sand in which the eggs are laid, determines the sex of the turtle? Below 30C is predominately male; above 30C is predominantly female.

 

The incubation period lasts 60 days. Once hatched, they make their way up to the surface, where the EMEG volunteers gather them and place them in a large plastic container. They stretch their legs, clamber over one another and await their colossal journey. 

Firstly, each and every turtle has to be weighed and measured.

Precisely, when the sun is setting on the horizon, they will make their run!

One of the turtles started moving in the opposite direction, heading straight up towards the beach and centre. With a little, gentle encouragement, even he found the waterline eventually. Another seemed to exhausted to move, and what seemed ages to my youngest child, took his time to crawl towards the rough sea. I don’t think I have ever seen something so young. Have you?

To witness their miraculous track into the crashing waves, I couldn’t help but feel afraid and anxious for these tiny creatures. The instinct to rush, to fight their way down the beach and be covered by the giant ocean which offers dismal odds of survival is nothing short of remarkable. 

And then they were gone.... Bon voyage little ones!

 

This experience was of the unforgettable kind, not only for our children, but for us adults as well. We were able to witness one of nature’s miracles!