The Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) has bestowed its Editor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement of the Year 2012 on Shaikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Chairman of Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), for his leadership in the company’s Hawksbill Sea Turtle Conservation Programme.
“A key aspect of these awards is that they recognise the wide contribution of a project to society and the environment,” said Richard Thompson, editorial director of the MEED. “It is my hope that in recognising and promoting the programme’s success, others can be encouraged to learn from it.”
TDIC’s Hawksbill Sea Turtle Conservation Programme is focused on Saadiyat Island, which lies just 500 metres off the UAE Capital’s coast. The programme has ensured that the now critically endangered Hawksbill turtles continue to nest on the island’s sweeping beachfront despite heavy development, which began several years ago with the opening of the Saadiyat Beach Golf Course and continued with the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Park Hyatt Hotel and the Monte Carlo Beach Club and residential villas.
The nine-kilometre Saadiyat beach plays host to several Hawksbill turtle nests every year — the first two nests of this season have already been cordoned off and are being monitored.
For this reason, TDIC restricts resort development on Saadiyat Beach to at least 60 metres back from the seaward edge of the coastal dunes, creating a buffer zone that 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 Saadiyat.
Operational guidelines further protect the nesting sites by restricting beach access to pedestrians who reach the shore via elevated boardwalks, which prevent people from walking through the delicate dune system and potentially disturbing the nests.
During the nesting season, night lighting is reduced to aid the hatchling turtles’ orientation towards the sea; nests are logged and avoided by beach maintenance crew; and all beach furniture is moved off the beach.
TDIC is currently producing educational signage and information leaflets at the hotels and the Beach Club on Saadiyat to promote the protection of the turtles among the island’s guests.
Turtle information is being placed in hotel rooms and guest engagement is being encouraged through kids’ clubs on the beach.