Every year, the community of Lhaviyani Atoll come together to celebrate their Marine Wildlife and raise awareness around environmental issues, through competitions, educational presentations and cultural performances. Read on to discover the highlights from this incredible day!
On the 14th July, Naifaru Juvenile held the 2nd Annual Turtle Festival! After months of preparation the day was finally upon us. The whole area in front our Atoll Marine Centre buzzed with excitement as the community came together to celebrate Naifaru, recycling, and of course, turtles. Passing through the entrance gateway, two giant jellyfish towered above, their tentacles of rope and plastic bottles danced in the breeze, the perfect representation of marine life and recycling in one amazing sculpture, welcoming you into the festival. Each side of the festival was lined with an array of brightly decorated stalls from schools across Lhaviyani Atoll, organisations such as Olive Ridley Project, Manta Trust and UNDP, as well as some of the Festival’s sponsors. With information, games, sculptures and crafts, each shed a little bit more light on how as a community we can protect our oceans and its wildlife. First up we had a warm welcome from our very own Marine Biologist, Zoe, outlining the purpose of the festival and challenging resorts and restaurants to make the important switch to paper straws over plastic. Over 500 million are discarded every day across the world after only an average of 20 minutes of use, leaving plastic straws littering our seas and beaches, and causing serious injuries to marine life.
The festivities went into full swing with some energetic performances from the Atoll’s children. We had been hearing the local school practicing their dance all week and it was so endearing to see how excited the children were, dancing in their handmade costumes, singing about the wonderful marine wildlife.
Presentations were given by Atoll Marine Centre around the important work they do, how to correctly handle injured turtles, and a little about our guests of honour; the turtles at our centre! Next, we had Lisa from The Manta Trust, who gave a fascinating presentation about the mysterious world of Ray’s! The children, members of the community and guests to The Maldives were able to walk around our open Marine Centre, asking questions about our turtles, such as the circumstances that brought them to us, our rehabilitation programmes and day to day life! It was a fantastic opportunity to see first hand these beautiful creatures and why they need our active protection. We also had our own stall, providing information to fishermen, resorts and local people, crafts and games! Painting glass bottles found at the islands garbage dump and bowling made from used plastic bottles proved particularly popular. We were so impressed with the response to our bracelets and anklets made from ghost nets that they have now become a stocked item in our gift shop, proving that everything can be recycled and be made into something useful!
To show the full cycle of our work, we were lucky enough to be able to release two of our turtles on the day, Luna and Lola. These two Olive Ridley’s had both arrived on the same day, after both having been caught in cement bags, resulting in flipper amputations. Everyone gathered excitedly on the beach as they lowered one by one into the sea, as we all watched as one, following their speedy progress out back into the wild. It was a beautiful moment, and the perfect example of the reasons behind The Turtle Festival.
It was then on to the judging! We had representatives from each of the schools, the police, and our very own Zoe, who had the impossible task of judging the schools on the recycled materials sculpture competition, revamped cement bags, and overall stall presentation. The standard and effort from all the schools was so impressive, they deliberated for hours! From a clown fish made from over 150 plastic bottles, to an underwater manta ray scene made from entirely recycled materials (even down to the glue!), the children truly did themselves proud! Cement bags were given a new lease of life as intricately decorated handbags, as hats, eye makes, art and a ton of other inventive ideas! We couldn’t resist buying some for ourselves, with all the money raised going straight to the children’s Nature Club!
After a delicious buffet at Aqqa Garden, the sun went down and we gathered around the stage to hear fabulous performances from The PalmTones, their mellow music providing the perfect soundtrack to a lovely backdrop next to the ocean. We even had a guest performance from one of our volunteers, Harry, who showed off his brilliant vocals and guitar skills. As the festival drew to a close, we walked towards the exit, back to the the giant jellyfish now illuminated by multicoloured lights. The light also shone on our newly painted wall that everyone has been contributing to throughout the day of the festival, each painting a small turtle, with their name. I looked at the vibrant mix of people; children, volunteers, resort guests, fishermen, teachers, organisations and locals, all together, all as one community, pledging to make a change and work together to protect our turtles.