We’ve been so busy here on Naifaru these past few weeks hanging out with Manta Rays, visiting uninhabited islands and obviously doing lots of hard work in between, but we couldn’t not tell you about Nema’s journey.
Nema came to us in early December with a fin barely hanging on – she’d been caught in a fishing net and had to have one fin amputated by a local surgeon from the hospital (there is only one registered vet in The Maldives…you’ll meet her further along our story). She would barely eat to begin with and everyone was worried that this huge new addition to our Turtle family in Atoll Marine Centre was not going to make it. But gradually she began to eat and regain her strength and it wasn’t long before we had to start adapting the tanks to help her rehabiliation. With a little help from our a hundred man handyman (if you ask Mustafa, he will build it) we soon got Nema into a harness so her one good fin could recover in peace.
We knew from the get go that once she was fit and healthy Nema should be moved to a bigger tank so she could recover from her Buoyancy Syndrome with more ease; this syndrome is caused by the turtle taking in too much air while in a state of panic, so that it pushes through the intestine walls and gets stuck between the walls of the intestine and the carapace. Unfortunately, it’s a waiting game so the bigger the tank the better.
After two failed attempts to transport Nema via seaplane (she was so strong she broke free from her ties on the first attempt and on the second attempt, the airline decided she was not a priority), we thought third time lucky should involve a boat. It turned out to be very lucky as only two days before departure another Olive Ridley was delivered to us, after having been found floating in a neighbouring resort’s reef unable to dive by our Marine Biologist friend and colleague.
So now we had two Olive Ridley turtles to deliver to The Olive Ridley Project! Pictures paint a thousand words so this little gif expresses the bulk of our journey, which thanks to the skills and expertise of our team of volunteers (Director Kanma, Handyman Musta, Marine Biologist Zoe, Researcher Sebastien, Coordinator Cath & our boat crew) was as smooth and stress free as possible for Nema and Morla:
The release was an extremely joyous moment for all concerned. Nema immediately sped off to the other end of the tank and did a lap – a slightly lop-sided lap as she was still evidently getting used to a large space and only one fin, but a victory lap nonetheless. Then of course we were able to release Morla, our recent Olive Ridley rescue and we knew both were in the good hands of Claire Petros, the only vet in The Maldives, who’s working for The Olive Ridley Project, an organisation that now has a great rehabilitation centre and surgery in Cocoa Palm resort, so that turtles can be nursed to health and tourists can really see up close the damage done by waste in the ocean.
After a tour around the facilities and before a spot of fancy pants lunch, we talked shop. Having shared turtle tips across the atolls it was nice to discuss all the challenges and successes of turtle rehabilitation face to face. We learnt how a lot of poaching still goes on in the Baa atoll and that despite the best efforts of Claire, many local staff still think of them as food. Hence why she has been visiting schools to teach the kids about how important turtles are to the ecosystem & how if we take one valuable adult out of the population then it’s a 25 year wait until a newly born (of which 1 in 1000 survive) will reach sexual maturity. Cocoa Palm island is a Green Sea turtle nesting island in April, so we hope Claire can get the message through to young and old alike so that these nests are not disturbed.
After learning more about the successful adoption scheme they have as well as some very useful medical knowledge, we were taken through the Turtle & Ray Identification & Monitoring system they have up and running by the resident Marine Biologist Lisa. What with the huge numbers of Manta Rays spotted yearly around our island, we are thinking we might have to start a similar system soon. Finally we went through a great Dos & Donts Guide for when you find a turtle, which we are planning to engage resorts with for our Turtle Festival with the help of our partners The Olive Ridley Project and Marine Savers. Out of the many resorts who encounter turtles or set up centres for them, very few are doing it right or with the permits they require. Although, there is a long road to go, it is success stories like Nema’s journey so far which make it all worth while. Her strength and the strength of the community around her to give this turtle a chance is what conservation and volunteering is all about.