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The Olive Ridley Project

Conservation

 

Prodivers is committed to the protection of the underwater world. One of our main agendas is to provide sustainable and responsible diving. We want to cherish the marine wildlife such as sharks, rays and of course sea turtles. Therefore, we are happy to introduce you to the Olive Ridley Project (ORP)– a sea turtle protection and research program.

The Maldives are frequented by 5 out of 7 sea turtle species, with the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green (Chelonia mydas) sea turtle the most common species. When you visit us in one of our dive centers it is quite possible that you will encounter one of those ancient marine reptiles. If you are looking for a special turtle encounter, the Lhaviyani Atoll is probably your best shot.

Turtle Identification

 

In the Lhaviyani Atoll we have already identified over 400 sea turtles. The majority of these turtles, however, can be found at THE turtle hotspot in the Maldives – Kuredu, where you can meet one of 219 sea turtles, many of which are residents to the island. The Olive Ridley Project collects data on the local turtles to learn more about the population here in the Maldives.

With marine biologists stationed in North Male & Laamu Atoll, the ORP has thereby acquired one of the biggest turtle photo ID databases in the world. We can find juvenile sea turtles between 30 – 60 cm and adult males and females measuring 60 – 110 cm shell lengths! Besides the juveniles and adult turtles, we are also lucky to sometimes have hatching baby turtles. So far in the Lhaviyani Atoll, we have recorded 16 green sea turtle nests with 1618 live hatchlings. This information is also crucial in learning more about the recruitment of new turtles to the population and the stability of a population.

Recently the Prodivers team at Jawakara has discovered another turtle hotspot – a dive site at the out reef of Innahura is frequented by many hawksbill turtles. During one dive it is easy to see more than 20 of those turtles resting, feeding or swimming. The ORP marine biologist was able to identify 36 new hawksbill turtles which have been added to the Lhaviyani database and will be monitored.

The threat of ghost nets

The main agenda of the Olive Ridley Project is to conquer the problems of ghost nets in the Indian Ocean and raise awareness about the issue. Ghost gear is all fishing gear that has been lost, discarded or abandoned at sea. These nets and fishing lines keep on fishing and in that way many marine animals end up entangled. Since the ORP started to record data 813 injured turtles have been encountered in 814 ghost nets that we retrieved (May 2019). The ORP collects data from all recovered ghost nets in the hope of finding answers to the questions of where the nets are coming from, how long they have been drifting and which type of net is most likely to entangle a turtle.

This year (May 2019) 132 entangled turtles have been found. 94% of those turtles were Olive Ridley turtles (May 2019). The species is not very common in the Maldives but rather at the Indian Coast, they spend a lot of time in the open ocean and are therefore exposed to the ghost nets. Usually, they like to rest on floating sea algae and they can’t differentiate between the nets and the natural patches.

62 of the entangled turtles were able to be released immediately, whereas 15 were found dead or died in rehab. 56 turtles were sent to the Rescue Center at Coco Palm Dhoni Kholu in Baa Atoll where there is a resident veterinarian who can perform surgery (e.g. amputations etc). The ORPs main goal is to release the turtles once they’ve recovered. However, sometimes that may take longer and some individuals are unreleasable because of two missing front flippers. Sea turtles mainly use their front flippers to swim and especially to dive. If both were amputated naturally by the net or later through surgery the turtles can’t be released.