Turtle tag and rescue: The story of Amal “Hope” and Hayat “Life”
By Dr. Royale Hardenstine, Protected Species Science Manager at The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC)
On 2nd April 2021, TRSDC’s Construction team alerted members of the Environmental Sustainability team to a turtle unable to dive. The Construction team were able to safely recover the turtle and bring it back to shore. The very next day, a second turtle was reported and rescued with similar symptoms by a Saudi boat captain. Following approvals from the National Center for Wildlife, both turtles were transported to the Fakieh Aquarium in Jeddah for rehabilitation. They were named Amal, meaning “Hope,” and Hayat, meaning “Life.”
The two sub-adult female turtles were both hawksbills, a critically endangered species. The turtles presented ‘floating syndrome’, which leaves individuals positively buoyant making them unable to dive properly. This left the turtles vulnerable at the surface of the water and unable to reach their food sources. It is not clear exactly what has caused the issue in these two individuals, but it was likely a gastro-intestinal issue. These issues can naturally occur if there is an impaction, for which, the best treatment is a safe place to rest and recover.
There are other possible causes of floating syndrome such as the ingestion of plastics or other marine debris, entanglement in fishing gear, lung infections or occasionally a boat-strike. However, there is no evidence to suggest a specific trauma or human interaction caused the symptoms in these two turtles.
Tag and release
After a few weeks in care, both turtles were able to dive and rest on the bottom of their rehabilitation pools with ease. To monitor the turtles after their release, collaborators from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Reef Ecology Lab, offered to help tag them.
“Amal and Hayat received titanium flipper tags which have a unique alpha-numeric codes that can be used to identify them in the future. Amal has also received a satellite tag that will provide us with nearly real-time information on her location. This will allow us to know if she has nested on our beaches in the future or if she is sighted by the monitoring team or other divers in the water. Unfortunately, only one satellite tag was available, so we were unable to fit both turtles with this gear.
When the turtles were back to full health, members of the Sustainability Stewards team assisted us with the six-hour drive from Jeddah to transport the turtles. As key members of our response team, we were excited to have some of them participate in releasing the two turtles.
Al Waqadi was chosen as the release site because it is protected against development and is home to the highest number of hawksbill turtles nesting within The Red Sea Project area. Since her release, Amal’s satellite tag has been “pinging” providing us with her location, scientific data on her movements, and showing that her rehabilitation was a success.
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