Today’s video was filmed at the beach outside the world-famous Burj Al Arab and Madinet Jumeriah hotels, where an annual summer sea turtle release happened late last week. As part of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, Jumeirah – the hotel group who owns the Burj Al Arab along with several other luxury hotels in Dubai – has an aquarium team that works with the Wildlife Protection Office and local veterinarians to save and release turtles. Since 2004, more than 554 sea turtles have been rehabilitated and released thanks to the project, which is the only one of its kind in Dubai.
This year, the sea turtle celebration was open to the public for the first time. For the send off, 100 critically endangered turtles were each assigned to a child – mostly competition winners, pupils from local schools and even some hotel guests. The children helped release the turtles while the rest of the onlookers watched the turtles make their way into the Arabian Gulf. Six turtles (including two hawksbill sea turtles, two green sea turtles, and two loggerhead sea turtles) were tagged with satellite devices that monitor their whereabouts. Anyone can log on to the project’s Facebook page to see periodic posts about how far the turtles have traveled.
The video above is from last year’s release, but two additional photos from 2012 are included after the jump.
The lowest lying country in the world does not offer much above sea level, just 7 feet 7 inches at its highest point. This fine sliver of sun kissed atolls is so postcard perfect it borders on ridiculous. White sand beaches, Kool-aid blue seawater, and densely populated coral reefs are de rigueur in The Maldives. It is a different kind of world, a water-world with flying taxis and manta rays measuring over 20 feet from tip to tip, soaring over their colorful underwater kingdoms.
With 1,192 islands covering 26 atolls, the Maldives island chain covers a significant portion of the Indian Ocean between India and Africa. The scantly populated nation boasts only 400,000 humans, many of which are Muslim. The one time British protectorate and Islamic sultanate habitats only 200 of its many islands with the rest defending the deserted island ideal – groves of shady palms trees, tide pools filled with skittering creatures, soft white beaches that disappear into cyan water, and nary a human in sight to spoil the dream.
From the New World, reaching The Maldives is a serious commitment, but the effort is rewarding. While no direct flights exist from the United States, London and Dubai provide worthy hubs to the island nation. British Airways and SriLankan Airlines fly direct from London to Male – the capital city of The Maldives. Emirates flies direct from Dubai in just about four hours.
From Southeast Asia, Singapore Air services The Maldives from Singapore. The easiest (and cheapest) connection to Male is from nearby Colombo in Sri Lanka via SriLankan Airlines. Colombo can be reached cheaply from the hub of Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia.
The Maldives is home to some of the nicest resorts on the planet. It is one of the most exclusive and expensive places to visit, but value can be found for those that look. Websites such as Kayak will show aggregate pricing from a number of hotel booking sites, and it is possible to pounce on insanely good deals. Just be sure to factor in airplane transfers (seaplane taxi can reach $500 per person from the airport) and the inevitable massive dining bill on top of your nightly fee. For a mid-range resort in the Maldives, expect to pay at least $35-$100 per meal per couple (without massive alcohol consumption) and be sure to choose a package that includes a free breakfast.
A great workaround to the expensive seaplane taxi is to book a resort that can be reached by yacht. Resorts such as Kurumba and Kuramathi are close enough to the airport for cheap boat transportation, but the trade-off of hearing planes landing may not be worth it for some people.
Since every property in the Maldives outside of the capital city of Male is on its own private island, it is very important to choose wisely. The commitment is unlike choosing a regular hotel in a regular city because you are literally on an island, forced to eat and sun exclusively on island, with the exception of occasional excursions. If the food is sub-par and expensive, then you will be a slave to this dining arrangement for the duration of your stay. Therefore, it is very wise to do research on sites like Tripadvisor to insure yourself against the plague of daily disappointment.
As far as snorkeling goes, it does not get better than the Maldives. With 200 species of coral reef and 300 species of fish, the underwater beauty is mind-blowing. It is one of those rare locations where the snorkeling is as good as, if not better than, the scuba diving. Experiencing both is ideal, but if you are not into breathing compressed air, then snorkeling the Maldives will certainly suffice in providing one of life’s great experiences.
The coolest thing about the snorkeling is the accessibility. The water is extremely calm, and many offshore reefs are shallow. This provides an environment that even novice swimmers can be comfortable with. Most resorts also have house reefs that begin just steps from one’s guestroom. This proximity to the coral reefs provides a convenient, and free, gateway to the underwater kingdom of the Maldives.
The Capital Malé is the island capital of the Maldives (above) with 100,000 Maldivians making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world. The island is filled with tall buildings, mosques, and fish markets. People do not generally visit the Maldives to see this bustling island, but those that do visit the capital find an extremely interesting society based around the worship of Islam and bounty of the sea. It is also the cheapest place to stay in the Maldives with sub $50 rooms.
Maldives on a Budget
So what is “budget” in an island playground for the wealthy? The term “budget” is relative. Visiting Quito, Ecuador on a budget may involve a $35 per day allowance, while a budget Maldives trip can be realistically done for $250 per day per couple. A huge difference, but the price of paradise has a premium.
The Maldives is one of the most expensive destinations in the world. Just getting there will cost at least $300 round-trip, and upon arrival, the real hemorrhaging of cash begins. Rooms reach upwards of $1000 per night, private taxis from the airport can cost over $500, and food, bearing hefty logistical costs, is also quite expensive.
If done right though, it is possible to book a room for a little over $100. Airport transfer can also cost a fortune, but, if the resort is close enough to the airport, it is possible to pay only $25 each way for private boat transport.
Utilize websites like Kayak and Agoda to find cheap rooms and inquire directly with the resort about cost of transport from the airport. On my last visit to the Maldives, I paid $166 per night for a room at Kurumba (with breakfast, crucial, for stealing snacks later called lunch) and about $50 per person for return transport to the airport. My daily budget averaged $280 for two people that drink modestly – not a shoestring, but relatively cheap for one of the most expensive destinations in the world. (Disclaimer: I ate chicken nuggets off the toddler menu twice.)
Global warming and the Maldives
In 2009, the president of the Maldives and his cabinet held a meeting underwater to illustrate the Maldives status as one of the few endangered countries on the planet. With sea levels rising and the Maldives being the lowest lying country in the world, its fate as the first submerged nation is very possible. All the more reason to visit this spectacular land while it is still above sea level.
All photography by Justin Delaney
Aerial photo of Male from Wikimedia Commons
Over 100 rehabilitated sea turtles tasted freedom last Thursday when they were released into the Arabian Gulf. The hawksbill turtles were set free just outside of the Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah hotels in time for World Sea Turtle Day. Both hotels serve as rehabilitation locations for the turtles in the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project.
For the big release, 101 children – including competition winners, pupils from a local school and even some hotel guests – released the turtles from the beach of Madinat Jumeirah, with the Burj Al Arab in the background. The Jumeirah group says the event was designed to raise awareness of the importance of the program, as well as issues facing turtles. The hawksbill turtle population has seen an 87 percent decline in its population over the last three decades.
Along the beaches of the Florida panhandle and Alabama there is a massive rescue effort underway involving butter knives and forks, tricked-out Styrofoam coolers and specially-rigged FedEx trucks.
The job is to scoop 70,000 mostly loggerhead sea turtle eggs out of the sand (very carefully, using kitchen utensils among other tools) before the hatchlings can swim out into the Gulf where they will either suffocate or be poisoned when they start floating with the current and munching on oil-soaked seaweed.
It is an unusual example of across-the-board cooperation among the federal government (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and local environmentalists, who are usually loudly against any such intervention. No matter the threat, relocating turtles nests is rarely done. Here it’s being regarded as essential.
Early this morning I talked with J. Nichols, a research associate with the California Academy of Sciences who was just leaving the dock in Grand Isle for a day observing the impact of the oil gusher on local wildlife. His Grupo Tortuga has for years been dedicated to restoring Pacific Ocean sea turtles. His response to the unorthodox rescue plan? “I wouldn’t want to put any turtle into that oil if there’s another option.”
The turtle rescue echoes a theme I heard in voiced across the Gulf as the gushing continued – 2.5 million gallons a day, or roughly 200 million gallons – like those defending the unorthodox building of berms and dikes to try and stem the oil tide, that doing something is better than doing nothing, even if the efforts may seem Quixotic.
%Gallery-98231%Carl Safina is the president of the Blue Ocean Institute. Among his many books on ocean wildlife he’s written “Voyage of the Turtle.” Regarding the nest relocating he says, “For the hatchlings it’s a tiny sliver of a gain. It helps draw attention and that’s good.” He adds that of course it is already too late for the juveniles and adults already aswim in the Gulf.
One reason sea turtles lay so many eggs – about 100 per nest – is because the chance of surviving is so low. The probability that a sea turtle hatchling will survive ranges from one in 1,000 to one in 10,000. Even in the best of times tracking them is tricky, including statistics like how many eggs are laid, how many turtles are successfully hatched and how many survive the first month.
The process of trying to save the 700 nests is painstaking: 1,500 Styrofoam coolers have been turned into surrogate nests, each holding just half a nest. Once the coolers are filled with sand and the eggs carefully laid inside they are loaded into specially padded FedEx 18-wheelers and driven to the NASA-controlled Kennedy Space Center where an air-conditioned warehouse has been readied. Within seven to eight weeks the eggs should hatch and the tiny turtles will be carted to the eastern side of Florida to be released into the Atlantic.
Everyone involved has fingers, toes, etc., firmly crossed.
Like most wildlife in the Gulf, sea turtles have not fared very well. To-date a little more than 600 have been found washed ashore or floating injured near the site of the gushing oil well, 447 dead and 116 with visible oil on them. Others have been accidentally burned to death in some of the “controlled” fires aimed at reducing oil gathered on the sea’s surface.
BP is concerned about those numbers because ultimately it will have to pay damages for every dead creature counted, just as it will have to pay a penalty for each gallon spilled.
The W Fort Lauderdale had a little problem — turtles kept crossing the road in front of their hotel. To get to the other side. And getting hit by cars on the way.
The issue was the hotel lights. Apparently, when choosing between their current side of the road and the certain death of crossing the street, turtles have a habit of “going towards the light.” What this says about the psychological situation of turtles is beyond our realm of expertise, but we do know what The W did to stop turtles from killing themselves just to visit their hotel.
We want to take a moment to add that the internationally protected loggerhead sea turtles (once aggressively hunted for their meat, eggs, fat and shells) are actually an attraction of this Florida area. It’s only a short drive from Fort Lauderdale to Dania Beach where you can walk the sands at sunset and watch the loggerheads (pictured) in action — and even take a look at their nests, a great activity for couples and families. Remember the turtles in “Finding Nemo”? Those were loggerheads. As Crush said to Marlin: “Oh, it’s awesome, Jellyman. The little dudes are just eggs, we leave ’em on a beach to hatch, and then, coo-coo-cachoo, they find their way back to the big ol’ blue.” Well, many turtles think it’s a good idea to cross the street to make a nest for their eggs. And if they do happen to make it, and those eggs hatch? Baby turtle road-carnage.
I know, it’s not nice to think about.
Anyway, according to Tonic.com, The W Hotel, “with the blessings of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission,” installed “long wavelength lighting” pointed toward the ground. “The hotel is able to keep everything bright enough for evening swims and dinner outdoors without luring in one gatecrashing turtle.”
The hotel also features energy efficient LED lighting, carpets made with sustainable materials, and even bamboo flooring in some rooms. Not too shabby. We commend W for their creativity and for helping save the turtles!