EGA celebrates World Environment Day with rare turtles returning to nest at the Taweelah site

Company’s efforts to save critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle pay rich dividends

World Environment Day has taken on special significance for the UAE-based aluminium giant Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC (“EGA”), where the company’s ongoing efforts to save the rare Hawksbill Turtle have resulted in 12 confirmed nesting sites on Al Taweelah beach this year. This figure reached 28 nests during 2012.

Hawksbill turtles are classified by the World Wildlife Fund as ‘critically endangered’, with fewer than 80,000 specimens left in the wild. One of the best ways to ensure their survival is by providing safe nesting spots for female turtles. The discovery in 2011 of female Hawksbill turtles on Al Taweelah beach, which adjoins EGA’s Emirates Aluminium (“EMAL”) plant, sparked a campaign that has since given hundreds of baby turtles a fighting chance in their tenuous journey.

Since then, EGA’s efforts to provide an ideal habitat for nesting have seen growing numbers of female Hawksbill turtles nesting on Al Taweelah beach. This year’s nests could see over a thousand hatchlings returning safely to the wild.

The campaign has seen the company close the beach to any access and set up a ‘catch net’ system to direct the turtles towards the sea. In addition, EGA employees now conduct a major operation to clean the beach area and nearby sea of debris, including discarded fishing nets and other marine flotsam. This year, they collected more than six tonnes of plastic bottles, containers and other marine debris across an area of nearly 2,000 square metres. The cleaning operation continues on a daily basis until after the hatching season.

Frank Briganti, Vice President: Environmental Health and Safety at EGA, says EGA works closely with experts from the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in Dubai to identify the most effective way of supporting the turtles. CCTV cameras with both day and night vision monitor activity on the beach – and as well as recording female turtles coming ashore to nest, the cameras have also observed a wide variety of other wildlife such as gazelles, snakes, lizards and ospreys.

“Environmental conservation has been a core value of EGA’s since inception. We’re deeply committed to minimising the impact of our operations on the environment, and the return of turtles to Al Taweelah beach is evidence that our efforts are making a real difference to preserving the indigenous wildlife,” he said.

There are two main species of marine turtles in the UAE’s waters: Green Turtles, which are listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List, and Hawksbill Turtles, which are classified as “Critically Endangered”. Turtles play a vital role in the marine food chain, but are experiencing serious threats to their survival through pollution and changes to important turtle habitats, especially coral reefs, sea-grass beds, mangrove forests and nesting beaches.

Other threats include accidental drowning in fishing gear, over-harvesting of turtles and eggs, and predation of eggs and hatchlings by foxes, feral pigs and dogs.

EGA has strict guidelines for conserving marine life, which include specific guidelines for rescuing marine turtles trapped accidentally in the Power and Desalination stilling-chambers at its Dubai Aluminium (“DUBAL”) operations. Healthy turtles are released back into the sea; while injured or sick turtles are referred to the Turtle Rehabilitation Unit in Madinat Jumeirah.

EGA also undertakes regular boat patrols and diving surveys, which indicate that the immediate marine areas off its two operations are teeming with life, including dolphins, sharks, turtles and local fish such as Hammour, Jish, Safi, Sichill and Hagool.

“We run the full gamut of environmental responsibility, from recycling and reusing most of our waste to ensuring all wildlife on the EMAL site was captured and relocated before construction began in 2010. Even the water used by DUBAL and EMAL during the aluminium and energy production processes is returned to the sea within a one degree Celsius temperature range, to preserve the precious corals in the surrounding sea. For us, aluminium production should never cost the earth,” said Briganti.