Barbara Lang-Lenton set up Dubai’s leading project to help the animals, with more than 2,000 rereleased into the wild

Barbara Lang-Lenton runs the turtle rehabilitation project at Jumeirah Al Naseem in Dubai.

Biologist Barbara Lang-Lenton has dedicated her life to rescuing injured turtles along the UAE’s shores.
She launched the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project at Jumeirah Al Naseem in 2004, rejoining the team in 2021 to lead the project.
To date, the programme has rescued and released 2,109 hawksbill, green, loggerhead and olive ridley turtles, some of which were later tracked as far as India and Thailand.
Ms Lang-Lenton, 46, originally from Spain, now spearheads biodiversity initiatives across the region and spends her weekends leading rescue missions with her three children in tow.

Here, she invites The National for a day at the lagoons to meet permanent residents Humpty and Dumpty and reveals how her team helps put other injured turtles back together again.

What does your job involve?
If someone goes to the beach or out at sea and finds a stranded or injured turtle, then we go and collect them and bring them back to Burj Al Arab’s aquarium facilities. The resort is where the initial assessments are carried out before animals are transferred to Jumeirah Al Naseem’s lagoons next door.
We have very large quarantine areas and that’s where we do the clinical part of the project such as X-rays or surgery.

More than 60 per cent are young hawksbills that are born in this part of the Gulf and get cold-stunned in the winter months – they are quite easy to treat.
We also get a lot of cases where turtles get tangled in fishing gear or discarded waste. They may also have developed infections from plastics in the water.
Less frequently we get boat strikes, where turtles are basically cracked open from big impact or are cut with a propeller.
We keep the turtles with us for as long as they need. Once they are swimming on their own and can feed by themselves, they get moved to the turtle rehabilitation lagoons in Jumeirah Al Naseem.
Once in the lagoons, the turtles continue to build up their strength and fitness until the weather conditions are favourable for release back into the ocean.

We have two permanent residents, Humpty and Dumpty, whose shells are too badly damaged to survive in the wild, but we aim to get all of our turtles back into the ocean where they belong.

What are some of the most exciting aspects?
I do a lot of ecology monitoring around Burj Al Arab and other hotels around the world, so I get to go diving in the ocean and interact with a lot of people and kids.
I love to see people sharing my passion for the first time. Witnessing that first reaction is precious and it’s really rewarding on a personal level.
I see a bright future for more projects to come, and we just want to expand on the work that we initiated almost 20 years ago.

What are the most challenging parts?
It’s getting a lot easier now that sustainability is increasingly at the forefront of everyone’s minds but pollution in the ocean is very frustrating.
Tests find most turtles have plastics in their digestive system, regardless of any other injuries.
On a more personal level, I have three children and it’s a lot of work in the winter season when we go around the country and rescue a lot of turtles.
They are five, eight and 11 and have become little turtle rangers with me.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Of course, releasing the turtles is really rewarding but I do get emotional when I say goodbye to the turtles that have been with us a while.
We have tracked 77 of our turtles since we started the project and it’s amazing to see where they go in the world once they leave us.
We had an olive ridley turtle named Ali who was very sensitive to changes in the water temperature and her health was up and down throughout the time she was with us.
She was very nervous but she travelled all the way to India to some of the breeding sites before we lost signal. We assume she was going there to nest, which was a very nice thought.

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