Saadiyat welcomes turtle nesting season
Abu Dhabi, May 16, 2012
The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas have announced that the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles have come back to its beachfront property for nesting season.
The season’s first nests have been spotted in conservation areas in front of the hotels, a statement from an official said.
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 do not disturb them with hatching expected within 50 to 70 days, the statement said.
Mubarak Al Muhairi, director general, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said: “The yearly return of the turtles is testament to the success of this conservation programme, which was designed to ensure that as hotels became operational on Saadiyat Beach, the turtles would continue to choose the island as their nesting ground.”
“This conservation programme, which was personally initiated by our chairman, HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, clearly demonstrates that tourism assets can be developed without damaging the environment and conversely, can actually be used to protect a destination’s environmental assets,” he said.
The 9km 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.
The 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.
Since the monitoring programme began early 2010, some 650 eggs have hatched successfully on the island. Turtles continued to nest even during the construction of the now open The St Regis Saadiyat Island and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, both ranked by Trip Advisor as “Hotels Travellers Are Raving About”; the Monte Carlo Beach Club, which has already made it to Time Out’s Travel 2012 Hot List; and the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, which has been certified for its own environmental planning by the Audubon Co-operative Sanctuary Programme for golf courses.
“The international response to Saadiyat has been exceptionally encouraging and owes much, we believe, to the natural surroundings of the island, which is rapidly emerging as a destination in its own right,” said Al Muhairi. “Abu Dhabi has a solid commitment to environmental protection and preservation and enhancing the environmental quality of its assets to enrich the lives of residents and visitors alike.”
Operational guidelines further protect the nesting sites by restricting beach access to pedestrians who reach the beach via elevated boardwalks, which prevent people from walking through the delicate dune system and potentially disturbing the nests.
Other TDIC measures for the protection of the Saadiyat coastal dune system cover lighting guidelines and assessments of operational developments, and a dedicated environmental resource that monitors and audits properties operating on the island.
“For example, during nesting season, night lighting is reduced to aid the hatchling 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,” Al Muhairi said.
“Our hospitality partners operating on Saadiyat Beach have fully co-operated with the conservation programme with many of their staff - including lifeguards, beach cleaners and beach security patrols - being fully trained by our environment team to look for and report turtles and nests and how to manage the beach during the nesting season,” said Denis O’Connor, executive director, operations, TDIC.
“These hotel staff are now enthusiastically involved with the programme and, working together with the TDIC environment team, spreading the word enthusiastically amongst their guests who have readily respected the beach access restrictions.”
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.
“The female turtles come ashore generally at night,” said Millie Plowman, environment manager, TDIC. “They haul themselves with their flippers towards the dune zone and 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 50cm 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,” he added.
TDIC is currently producing educational signage and information leaflets at the hotels and beach club on the island to promote the protection of the turtles among its 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.”
“Many people are asking about tours to see the exciting nesting events,” said Denis O’Connor. “However, turtle nesting events are not predictable and can happen at any hour of the night, therefore it is very difficult to arrange visits for Saadiyat.”
“Turtle hatching, on the other hand, is a little bit easier to predict, and therefore we will keep the guests informed about possible night-time hatching tours.”
“We are also now working on plans to sensitively leverage the conservation to build awareness among guests and enhance their Saadiyat visitor experience which is enriched by regular spotting of pods of dolphins off the island’s coastline and female gazelles who are favouring the sand dunes of the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club ocean course as a natural ‘creche’ for their new born,” he concluded. – TradeArabia News Service
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