The Olive Ridley Project was founded in 2013 by Biologist Martin Stelfox and Marine Biologist David Balson in response to the large amounts of entangled olive ridley sea turtles they encountered in the Maldives: They wanted to understand the phenomenon of olive ridley sea turtles drifting into the Maldives entangled in ghost nets and identify where the ghost nets originate from.
Since then, Olive Ridley Project volunteers have removed more than 1200 ghost nets and recorded 426 trapped turtles; 358 olive ridley turtles, 20 hawksbill turtles, 7 green turtles, 1 leatherback turtle, 1 loggerhead turtle and 3 turtles of unknown species. (Numbers accurate as of June 2017.)
Why Olive Ridley?
The olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is a species of sea turtle that is particularly rare in the Maldives. Most encounters with this vulnerable sea turtle in the Maldives are under stressful conditions; large numbers are found entangled in discarded fishing nets, also known as ghost nets.
Entanglement often leads to severe, sometimes fatal, injuries, and flipper amputations are common. If the entangled turtle is lucky enough to be rescued from the offending ghost net, the injuries and stress experienced by the turtles during this ordeal often lead to buoyancy problems: When turtles are unable to dive, they cannot eat or rest. Buoyancy problems will eventually lead to a slow death.
Ghost Nets in the Maldives
In the Maldives, fishing is done mainly with line & pole. Ghost nets found in Maldivian waters most likely drifted here with the currents. Unfortunately, it is difficult to say for certain where the nets originate. Changes in current direction during monsoons adds to the complexity in determining the origin of the ghost nets.
The Olive Ridley Project aims to protect and preserve the Indian Ocean from ghost nets by actively removing discarded fishing nets, rescuing and nursing entangled turtles back to health; educating local and scientific communities about the issue; identifying the origins of the ghost nets and target these location to change their fishing techniques; and promoting end of life recycling of fishing nets.
A community of volunteers, environmentalists and fellow Marine Biologists around the Indian Ocean are invaluable to the Olive Ridley Project. Their contributions have so far been phenomenal. The data they collect for the Olive Ridley Project through analysis of removed ghost nets and observations of entangled marine organisms have made it clear: ghost nets are a problem all over the Indian Ocean and many other marine organisms besides olive ridley sea turtles are being caught in, and killed by, ghost nets. Ghost nets are devastating already endangered marine life.