MARINE TURTLE RESCUE CENTRE

Injured Olive ridley turtle Nadia at ORP Turtle Rescue Centre
Nadia, an injured Olive ridley turtle at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre ©Claire Petros

Rescuing And Rehabilitating Injured Turtles

Marine turtles caught in ghost gear frequently suffer devastating injuries as a result. The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre provides veterinary care and rehabilitation to injured sea turtles rescued across the Maldives. Resort marine biologists, divers, snorkelers, and boat crews find most of our patients entangled in ghost gear. With injuries too severe for immediate release,  many of the turtles would almost certainly not survive without treatment.

Entangled Olive ridley sea turtle on the beach Haa Alif atoll Maldives
An entangled Olive ridley turtle on the beach in Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives ©Ibrahim Shameel

 

Typical Injuries Caused By Ghost Gear Entanglement

Olive ridley turtle lost front right flipper due to ghost net Maldives
A typical injury caused by ghost net entanglement is flipper amputation ©JCHallum

Fishing nets are made of very strong and durable plastic. As an entangled turtle struggles to free itself, the fishing net instead tightens further around its limbs, and sometimes neck. Deep lacerations and partially or completely amputated limbs are common, in addition to exhaustion, starvation and dehydration. Entangled turtles lucky enough to be rescued, or manage to get free,  often experience buoyancy problems caused by the injuries and stress. Buoyancy problems will eventually lead to a slow death if not treated; turtles unable to dive cannot eat or rest.

 

Treating Turtles Injured By Ghost Gear

Resident turtle vets performing suregery on rescued turtle Maldives
Surgery in progress at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre ©ORP

Our resident turtle veterinarian, Dr Claire Lomas, and a team of interns and volunteers take care of our turtle patients. Injured turtles may require stitches to heal a laceration or surgery to clean up a wound. Unfortunately, flipper amputations are also common. Other times proper nourishment, buoyancy treatment, dive training or a course of antibiotics is enough for the turtle to recover.

Olive ridley turtle with only one flipper swimming in the sea Maldives
Turtles missing one flipper, and some times two, can learn to swim and dive again ©ORP

Turtles who have lost one flipper can learn to swim very well. They can go on to live a normal turtle life in the wild. Turtles with only three flippers have even been observed nesting! If they have lost two flippers, particularly on the same side of the body, their chance for survival in the ocean is rather slim. We try to find “forever homes” for our double amputee patients in aquariums around the world.

Turtles suffering from buoyancy issues tend to recover over time, particularly after recuperating in a deep pool. Once they spend a normal amount of time foraging and sleeping on the bottom of the pool, they are ready to return to the ocean.

Turtle patient being fed at Marine Turtle Rescue Centre Maldives
Turtle feeding at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre ©ORP

Turtle patients are fed around 3% of their body weight daily. They eat a variety of fish such as tuna, snapper and Jackfish; they can be a bit fussy with their food, so we try to mix it up a bit and include crabs, jellyfish and lobster when possible. If a turtle suffers from loss of body weight, we wean them back to feeding normally and gradually build up their weight.

 

Meet Some of Our Turtle Patients

Ali Jappo, juvenile Hawksbill turtle found with longline fishing hook in the neck

In its first six months of operation, the rescue centre treated twenty-three injured turtles. We performed seven full flipper amputations and successfully released eight turtles. The average stay for the released turtle patients was forty-five days. We are currently looking for “forever homes” for one turtle patient. Eighteen of the rescued turtles were olive ridleys, four were hawksbill and one was a loggerhead turtle.

The rescuers usually name the turtles they find, so they are almost always named for a loved one (or the rescuers themselves).

In the Maldives, the olive ridley turtle is the number one victim of ghost net entanglements. They, therefore, make up the largest group of our patients. This is probably due to their oceanic and migratory nature. Olive ridley turtles spend most of their time in the deep blue sea migrating long distances – and that is where they encounter drifting ghost nets.

 

The First Veterinary-Led, Fully-Equipped Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in the Maldives

Olive Ridley Project Marine Turtle Rescue Centre Maldives
Click on the image to take a tour of the ORP Marine Turtle Rescue Centre (a new window will open)

The Olive Ridley Project and Coco Collection opened the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in February 2017. The first fully-equipped marine turtle rescue centre in Maldives has laboratory and surgical facilities as well as a full-time resident turtle veterinarian, Dr Claire Lomas. The rescue centre can accommodate up to eight turtle patients at the time in seven tanks. Mohamed Didi, Chief Engineer at the Coco Collection, developed a fully-automated water-flow regulation system, which allows pre-programmed procedures for the tanks.

The rescue centre is located at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resort in Baa Atoll. It was all made possible by an official partnership formed between Coco Collection and ORP in 2015, as well as very generous donations from guests at Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resorts and other partners. Coco Collection and ORP plan to open another marine turtle rescue centre at Coco Bodu Hithi in the future. We were able to purchase medical equipment for the rescue centre thanks to a grant from Pacsafe Turtle Fund.

 

Flying Turtles – A Partnership With TMA

Injured turtle ready to board MTA sea plane for transport to Marine Turtle Rescue Centre Maldives
The first turtle patient to be transported by TMA seaplane to the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre

Most of the time patients reach our rescue centre by speedboat transfer.  But sometimes their rescue takes place so far away that they arrive by seaplane! ORP has an official partnership with Tran-Maldivian Airlines who transport the turtle patients free of charge. So far we have received six flying turtle patients.

 

Volunteer With Sea Turtles

Download the ORP Volunteer Information PackInterns and volunteers assist the resident turtle vet in daily operations of the rescue centre. Internships are available to Maldivians over the age of 18 who wish to learn more about marine turtle conservation; volunteer opportunities are open to anyone above the age of 18.

Find out more about volunteering with sea turtles at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre here.

Guests at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu are very welcome to visit the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre. You can also join us for turtle feeding every morning and afternoon.

If you would like to support to the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre, please donate here.