Marine Turtle Rescue Centre

Adult male olive ridley turtle and double flipper amputee from ghost net entanglement, Heidi. Image.
Heidi, an adult male olive ridley turtle and double flipper amputee from ghost net entanglement.

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. Image.
An entangled olive ridley turtle on the beach in Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives.

Typical Injuries Caused By Ghost Gear Entanglement

Olive ridley turtle missing front right flipper due to ghost net entanglement, South Male Atoll, Maldives. Image.
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

Two vets performing surgery on rescued turtle, Maldives. Image.
Surgery in progress at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre. Dr Claire Petros, Lead Vet, and Dr Claire Lomas, Resident Vet 2017-2019.

Our resident turtle veterinarian, Dr Minnie Liddell, 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.

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 ORP Marine Turtle Rescue Centre, Maldives. Image.
Turtle feeding at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre.

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

In its first four years of operation, the Rescue Centre treated 143 injured turtles. We successfully released 76 turtles and some of our patients have been transferred to other rescue centres in the Maldives for continued rehabilitation. Most of the rescued turtles were olive ridleys with ghost net entanglement injuries, but we have also treated hawksbills, greens and 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. Image.
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, x-ray, ultrasound and surgical facilities, as well as a full-time resident turtle veterinarian, Dr Minnie Liddell. 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 TMA sea plane for transport to the ORP Marine Turtle Rescue Centre, Maldives. Image.
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 Pack

Interns 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.

Visiting Veterinarian Program

The ORP welcomes qualified veterinarians to volunteer at the Rescue Centre through our Visiting Veterinarian Program. This is a unique opportunity for qualified veterinarians specialising in exotic medicine from around the world to obtain hands on experience working with wild sea turtles in a tropical location.

The Visiting Veterinarian Program runs from April to October. We welcome Visiting Veterinarians for a minimum of 10 days, up to a maximum of 21 days.

Support the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre

We currently rely on the generosity of volunteers working with our Turtle Vet to ensure proper care for our patients. Support the Rescue Centre or sponsor one of our turtle patients by donating to the Olive Ridley Project.