Burj Al Arab – Turtle Rehab Center

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Now that I’ve started blogging again, I’ve found some photo gems in my collection that I had totally forgotten about. One of these gems are from 2008 when I was given a back-of-house tour of the Burj al Arab which included the area where they house the fishies and the turtles under rehab.

Before the Atlantis and the Dubai Mall aquariums, there was the Burj al Arab’s. The Burj has three public tanks: two are in the main lobby flanking the escalators, and the third is in their underwater themed restaurant, Al Mahara.

Al Mahara Restaurant @ Burj Al Arab
Al Mahara Restaurant

They have a large variety of  fish including species like leopard shark, green moray eel, electric guitar fish, spade fish, baby black-tip shark, humphead wrasse, moorish idols, Nemo fish, and much more.

And behind heavy blue doors, in the maze that is the Burj Al Arab back-of-house area, lies the “offices” of the Aquarium team.

Entrance to Aquarium Offices
Entrance to Aquarium Offices

Once inside, you could see digital control panels, sub-panels, microscopes, test tubes, petri dishes, glass pipettes, fish food, and dive gear. Detailed health records of all the fish in the aquariums are kept in large binders.

Burj Al Arab Aquarium
Clockwise From Top Left: Laboratory; Top view of one of the aquariums; Feeding time; Dive gear

There are holding tanks for new fish and sick fish. Some fish need to be isolated and conditioned to be in a small aquarium with other species, as they tend to be quite viscous and territorial, before they are placed into the public aquariums.

And sick fish are also placed in isolation (while I was there, the leopard shark was in such a state) until they get better so as not to infect others in their tank.

Holding tanks for new fish
Holding tanks for new fish

In addition to maintaining the aquariums and caring for the sealife, the staff also look after sick and debilitated turtles as part of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Program, the only one of its kind in Dubai.

The centre, which started operation in 1996 at another facility before being transferred to the hotel, receives between 15 and 20 sick turtles every year. About 80 per cent of the animals recover and are eventually released.

Turtles under Rehab at the Burj
Turtles under Rehab at the Burj

When a sick or injured turtle is first brought in, it is evaulated and cared for at the Burj Al Arab. Once the turtle regains its strength and health, it is transfered to a holding pen at Madinat Jumeirah where they can start to fully recover before being released back into the wild.

If you would like to visit the turtle sanctuary at Madinat Jumeirah, it is located between Al Muna and Zheng He’s restaurants (ETA March 3, 2011: And there is also a second sanctuary that was recently unveiled. This second holding pen is located next to the the Wharf Restaurant, just before the entrance to the Mina A’Salam pool and beach.) You can stand on the pier and get up close and personal with the turtles.

New turtle sanctuary at Mina A'Salam
New turtle sanctuary at Mina A'Salam

I don’t know if he is still there but one of the pen’s inhabitants is named Harold and is blind in one eye as well as missing flippers and, as a result, swims lopsided. The center has been Harold’s home for the past ten years and it is doubtful that he would survive in the wild.

If you find a turtle injured or stranded on the beach in Dubai or nearby vicinity, please call the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Center at (04) 301 7198.

For more photos and details about the Turtle Rehabilitation program, you can visit the following pages:

Edited to Add (March 3, 2011): At the newly relocated turtle sanctuary at Madinat Jumeirah (by Wharf restaurant), feeding and educational sessions are held every Wednesday at 11:30am and Friday at 1:30pm.

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