The SOS Call
In the afternoon of Sunday, 17th April, 2022, a crew from the OCEAN Group Maldives water sports team at Six Senses Laamu took three resort guests out on a private picnic boat ride. Due to the tide, they had difficulty in accessing their usual picnic islands. Instead they decided to go check out the uninhabited island of Athahendha. The guests were the first to disembark. They decided to seek shade under some palm trees a little distance from the beach. Here, to their horror, they discovered five upturned sea turtles, showing no signs of movement, hidden in the vegetation. All the sea turtles had minor injuries – fish hook wounds to their neck, minor scrapes on their shell, and swelling of an eye. The water sports team sent an urgent alert to the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) team based at Six Senses Laamu for help.
Isha Afeef, ORP’s then sea turtle biologist in Laamu Atoll, immediately called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to report the incident and get advice on handling the situation. The EPA linked her up with police chiefs Mohamed Saleem from Maamendhoo and Ahmed Fayaz from Maavah. A Six Senses team, including marine team captain Hassan Moosa and staff from MUI, picked up the officers and updated them on the situation.
When the rescue team got to the island, they discovered the five sea turtles – four adult males and one female – lined up and immobilized on their backs, carefully lodged inside the vegetation. They appeared weak but were all alive. With no time to lose, the team jumped into action. The sea turtles responded quickly to being doused with water; they began to thrash around, showing good strength and movement.
One by one, the team carefully carried each sea turtle onto the beach. The sea turtles were so heavy it took a minimum of six people to carry and flip each sea turtle back on its front. In addition, one person was responsible for continuing to douse the turtles with water. The rescue team followed ORP’s Sea Turtle Rescue Code of Conduct whilst handling the animals.
The entire experience must have been very disorienting and stressful for the sea turtles. They all took some time getting their bearings before heading towards the ocean. Isha took shell measurements and Photo-ID shots for ORP’s database and also sent the information to the EPA. She carefully monitored the sea turtles as they made their own way back into the water.
Despite being very confused and a little bloody from a fish hook injury to their neck, all four males made it back to the sea with no issues. The female, however, took a little longer to recover. She also had an eye injury caused by the pressure exerted on her eye from lying on her back. The team therefore called ORP’s then veterinary surgeon, Dr. Minnie, at the Marine Turtle Rescue Center just to be sure that she would be okay back in the water. Dr. Minnie assessed the injury through a video call. She assured the rescuers that the sea turtle would recover once she was over the initial confusion. The female took a long time to dive down, but the team stayed with her till she was gone in the deep.
Once the five sea turtles returned to the sea safely, the Maldives police and the EPA took over the case, to determine the cause and the events leading up to this incident.
The State of Green Sea Turtles In The Maldives
All five rescued turtles are new to our Laamu sea turtle Photo-ID database. This is likely because their home reefs are too remote for our biologist teams to access. Laamu is a significant hotspot for green sea turtles with the second largest database of green turtles amongst all the atolls that ORP survey. It is therefore important for the survival of the species that we protected it. Last year, Mission Blue designated Laamu Atoll as a Hope Spot. In December 2021, the government of Maldives also designated six Marine Protected Areas in the atoll due to the abundance of biodiversity and megafauna.
All sea turtles have been protected in the Maldives since 2016. They were given additional protection under the Protected Species Regulation (2021/R-25). The first National Red List Assessment of Marine Reptiles in the Maldives lists green sea turtles as an endangered species. Saving adult turtles is vital to keeping sea turtle populations stable. Green sea turtles take 15-50 years to reach sexual maturity. With only 1/1000 sea turtle eggs estimated to survive to adulthood, we need as many adult females as possible to lay as many eggs as possible! This group of rescued greens may actually have been caught ‘in the act’. It is quite common for a group of males to fight for a female’s attention and attempt to dislodge another mating male. Hopefully they can resume their activities once they’ve recovered from the incident!
A Big Thank You To Everyone Who Helped With The Rescue
We would like to thank the management of Six Senses Laamu for their unconditional and timely support for this sea turtle rescue. A special thanks to Laamu Police for supporting us in the mission and managing the situation. We are also grateful to EPA Maldives for coordinating and advising us on this venture. Thanks to OCEAN Group Maldives team for their prompt and resolute action. This rescue mission would not have been possible without the Maldives Underwater Initiative team – including Manta Trust and Blue Marine Foundation. They are always ready to spring into action whenever sea turtles need them! And last but not least, thank you to Six Senses Laamu’s guests David, Susan and Natalie Burns for their patience, kindness and support to the team during this rescue mission.