Hatti’s Tale of Heidi the Turtle and Hopefulness

Volunteer Hatti taking turtle patient Stitch for a swimin the seaFormer Marine Turtle Marine Centre volunteer Hatti is a Legal and Policy Researcher at environmental law charity ClientEarth in London.

She had a fantastic time volunteering at the Olive Ridley Project’s turtle rescue centre at Coco Palm on Dhuni Kholu in May 2018. Here she explains the importance of the work she saw. You can keep up to date with Hatti on Twitter: @hatti_owens.

Heidi’s Story

Olive ridley turtle patient Heidi during her initial surgery at ORP Marine Turtle Rescue Centre
Heidi during her initial surgery after arriving at the Rescue Centre

Heidi is an adult female Olive Ridley turtle. She arrived at the Olive Ridley Project (the ORP) turtle Rescue Centre the day before I did. Aged somewhere between 20 and 80(!) years old, Heidi is a large turtle. She had clearly been successful in the wild until she encountered a ghost fishing net somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

Although I had some awareness of the devastating effects of ghost fishing gear on sea turtles and other marine wildlife, it was still shocking to meet Heidi for the first time. She was sedated on the operating table in the ORP’s veterinary surgery. She had been tangled in a fishing net and her front flippers were badly injured. The bones in her flipper joints were exposed and the ORP’s vet, Dr. Pera Sinkovec, worked carefully to stitch her back up.

 

Olive ridley turtle Heidi bandaged up following her initial surgery
Heidi bandaged up following her initial surgery

Heidi’s story is quite sad. On my final day, she had her left front flipper amputated. It is not currently clear whether her right flipper will heal and, crucially, whether she will ever be well enough to return to the ocean. But her story is an important one to tell, to understand and, in response to which, we must take action.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Hatti and baby turtle Luna before Luna's release
Hatti and Luna before Luna’s release

Alongside the inevitable sorry stories, the work of the ORP instills great hopefulness. Whilst I was volunteering at the centre, I was lucky enough to help with the release of little Luna. She is a juvenile Olive Ridley turtle who came to the centre after being caught in a ghost fishing net. Watching this tiny turtle disappear into the big blue was an incredible moment for me and, I hope, for Luna too.

Alongside rehabilitation of injured turtles, the ORP does excellent outreach work, raising awareness of the perils of ghost fishing gear and encouraging the public to support more sustainable fishing practices for instance by only buying pole & line caught tuna.

 

Vegware Straws

Students from Junior Chamber International Youth Forum with a plastic free straw
Students from Junior Chamber International Youth Forum with a plastic free straw

During my stay, a group of students from Male’ (the capital of the Maldives) visited the centre. The students were members of Junior Chamber International & Youth Forum and were embarking on a tour of conservation and sustainable development projects within the Maldives.

It was a joy to meet the students. Their understanding of marine conservation issues and unsustainable fishing practices was really impressive. They showed great initiative, bringing with them a vegware (plastic-free) straw of a type the resort could use to improve its reduce consumption of single-use plastic. It is encouraging to see young Maldivians engaging with these issues and understanding the sorts of steps we must all take to protect our ocean.

Green Turtle Nesting

A green turtle mama nesting at Dhuni Kholu, Maldives
A green turtle mama nesting at Dhuni Kholu, Maldives

Whilst volunteering with the ORP, I was fortunate enough to see two huge green turtles nesting on the beach. The first nesting was – unusually – during daylight hours. As a result, I got an incredible view of the beautiful mama turtle doing her thing! It wasn’t entirely clear at the time whether she had actually laid any eggs. It was therefore a surprise and delight when a few days ago, about 8 weeks after the nesting, photos of hatchlings from the nest landed in my inbox!

Our responsibility

Long term turtle patient Stitch ORP Marines Turtle Rescue Centre
Little Stitch looking rather photogenic

I wonder at the resilience and survival instinct of these brilliant creatures. Having learnt more about the threats they, and other species within marine ecosystems face, it is clear that their continued existence depends on us.

Whether it’s the ORP rehabilitating and releasing an old turtle caught in fishing gear, or you deliberating about which tin of tuna to buy in Tesco, we all have role to play in safeguarding our seas.