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Turtle Time

Marine Biologist Emily Armstrong talks turtles with Yalla and explains how the summer months mark nesting season for sea turtles across Abu Dhabi beaches, and why Saadiyat Island is a popular spot with our hard-shelled friends!

A world away from the city at times, Saadiyat Beach is magical; with its glassy water, dolphins passing by and glittering soft sands. This naturally beautiful stretch is loved by tourists and residents alike, but there is an even more important regular visitor – the Hawksbill sea turtle. Over the spring and summer months, from March to July, adult female turtles come to Saadiyat Beach to nest, trusting the dunes to safeguard their eggs and protect the nests until the hatchlings are ready to emerge. But with growing visitors to the beach, these turtles need a little help along the way to make sure the nests are well-cared for and have the best chance of survival.

Enter Emily Armstrong — a Marine Biologist based at Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort — coordinating local efforts to record and conserve turtle nesting activity. Beach access is restricted at night, so every morning at sunrise Emily and the amazing ‘Turtle Patrol’ team of community volunteers head onto the beach, to search for any evidence of turtle activity from the night before. This ‘evidence’ can be found in the form of turtle tracks – marks on the sand across the beach leading to and from the shore. If there are tracks, there may be a nest; if there is a nest then the team will record important data for the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, and mark the area to avoid any disruption to the underlying eggs in the sand.

Once a nest has been laid, the team monitor it daily for any signs of disturbance, and then around 60 days later keep their fingers crossed in the hopes of a successful hatching event! The adult female will never return to her nest once she has laid her eggs; the hatchlings are born with an instinct to break out of their eggs deep in the sand and crawl towards the water. There, they swim to their nearest feeding grounds and begin their journey in the ocean.

Saadiyat had seen a decrease in nesting activity in recent years, with no activity spotted in 2018 and very little the year before. 2019 however, has been an incredible year and the Turtle Patrol team have successfully protected a total of 6 nests so far – who knows how many are still to come before the season is over!


• Hawksbill turtles are considered critically endangered on the IUCN red list.

• Adult sea turtles come to land to nest every 2-3 years and can lay multiple (3-4) nests in one season.

• An average nest will hold 80-100 eggs, though not every egg will produce a successful hatchling. Small hatchlings have a tough start in life, with an estimated 1 in 1000 surviving to adulthood!

• Temperature in the nest determines species – warmer nests produce more females, and cooler nests produce more males.

• Hawksbill nest incubation period is around 60 days. When ready, the hatchlings emerge from the nest at night, all together.

• Sea turtles will return to the beach they hatched from to lay their eggs – so we can hope to see these same turtles in years to come!

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