Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island is home to some super-modern beachside tourist facilities, as well as golf courses and other amenities. But a completely new set of tourists is expected to materialize in June/July. In the deep of night.
We're talking about Hawksbill sea turtles, an endangered species that are still returning every year to nest. Female turtles return to their birthplace when they reach the age of 30, swimming ashore, crawling clumsily along the sand towards the dunes, and finding a place to dig their nests just above high tide. They lay their eggs – about a hundred – and cover them with sand, to a dept of about 50 cm. Then they return to the sea.
The baby turtles hatch in June/July, dig their way out of the sand, and head for the sea.
Nests have been spotted in front of the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas. They are protected by the Abu Dhabi tourist authority's (TDIC) environmental affairs team, which has a Hawksbill turtle conservation programme. Resort development has been restricted to at least 60 metres from the seaward edge of the coastal dunes. Night lighting is restricted, because bright lights and loud sounds can disorientate the baby turtles. In the photo below, Millie Plowman, Environment Manager at TDIC, in front of a protected nest. St. Regis Saadiyat is in the background.
Beachside hotels are working with the TDIC team enthusiastically, and hotel guests willingly respect beach access restrictions. As about ten turtles from a nest nearly always head in the wrong direction, the team are on hand during the hatching period to ensure that they all reach the ocean.
Guests are asking about tours to see the nesting and hatching moments. Nesting is hard to see because the female turtle can arrive at any time of night. Hatching, which also takes place at night, is more predictable, and so it may be possible to see this.
Visitors to Saadiyat Island also have the chance of seeing groups of dolphins off the coast, and gazelles who love the dunes of the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club course as a natural nursery for their new born.