The sun is already baking hot as we walk across Naifaru Island from the volunteer house to go to breakfast. We wander slowly through the criss-cross of streets passing local people lounging outside their houses in traditional Joali rope chairs and dodging motorbikes. Breakfast is in the cool shade of Aqua Garden restaurant next to the beach, accompanied by the sound of ‘handymen’ Musta and Amin making a wooden crate to transport Nema one of our injured turtles to the Olive Ridley Project.
We say goodbye to Sebastian as he heads to the beach to carry out his sampling on hermit crabs and make our way to the marine centre. On our way, we debate whether or not Nema will still be in her harness as she has a habit of escaping! Today is not one of those days, however, so we say ‘hi’ to all of the turtles and set about the day’s tasks.
As it’s a Monday, we are doing a deep-clean of the tanks, so as Leo cuts up and weighs portions of tuna, Zoe, Julia and I start moving the turtles from their tanks to their feeding buckets. Zoe tests us on their names and the sequence in which they are fed as we do this. I’m amazed that in such a short space of time, we have been able to learn all 44 turtle’s names and can recognize them from subtle differences in their shell pattern and colour. We each have our favourites and it would be easy to spend hours watching them, but we have work to do! We empty the tanks and get scrubbing. The walls and rocks are washed with Dettol and then rinsed before the tanks are re-filled. It’s hot and dirty work, but Leo puts on some music and soon we are all learning a bit more about each other as we sing along and talk about our favourite bands.
At 10am Sarah gets a surprising phonecall; a tourist group from a local resort have landed on Naifaru and are headed our way. She quickly sets up the presentation and is there to welcome them when they arrive. They are an enthusiastic bunch, keen to ask questions and one couple is reluctant to leave! They are very generous with their donations when they finally depart, which is fantastic, and it’s so nice to hear that they think the work we are doing here is really valuable.
It’s approaching 1pm as we hurry to finish the last task of the day, to clean the tank of our other two injured turtles Lola and Luna and to treat their wounds with antiseptic cream. We head back to the house for a quick change and meet the Dhoni at the new harbour. Lunch is takeaway today so we eat it on the boat as we make the 25 minute journey across the crystal-clear turquoise water to a nearby uninhabited island, Vavvaru. It’s a choppy boat ride and we spend most of it clinging onto the sides as we sit on the roof to get the best view! We undress to our swimwear to make the last part of the journey, with the intention of wading onto the beach, but the waves are too high so a speedboat comes to meet us. We all jump in, passing snorkeling gear and bags across, and 2 minutes later we are walking onto the white-sand beach.
Sarah and Zoe show us around the coral lab and library. Sebastian is surprised by how much the island has changed in the last two years; a large part of the beach has disappeared and the sand-bank is just visible under the water.We snorkel out against the current, riding the waves, towards the sand bank. The visibility is great, and we are pleased we braved the strong current! Within minutes Sebastian spots an octopus and we take turns diving down to take a look as it hides beneath some coral. We snorkel for about an hour, seeing lots of colourful fish, including some shy clownfish darting in and out of an anemone. As we are heading back in, Zoe and I take a couple of underwater selfies with her GoPro…turns out this was a big mistake! We look up to see Sarah and Sebastian 30m away…they have been following a Manta Ray!! We race over, but too late to see it. We are feeling cold now but are not prepared to head in yet in case it comes back so we snorkel along the reef hoping to see it again. I catch a glimpse of something large out of the corner of my eye, it’s moving fast but ever so gracefully; not a Manta but a spotted Eagle Ray! It’s as curious about us as we are about it and it returns three or four times to check us out. Satisfied with our sighting we turn back towards the beach. On our way in, two more Eagle Rays glide past, right in front of us! We attempt to swim after them but they are out of sight in seconds.
We lie on the wicker loungers in the sun to dry off and watch Sarah’s video of the Manta Ray. Natu and Ricky call us over for some fresh coconut; a must after swimming apparently! Then it’s back onto the Dhoni for the return journey to Naifaru. The sun is setting behind us and the whole sky is lit up with fiery golden light and dotted with pink clouds. Just another day in paradise.