Our journey with the Olive Ridley Project

Those of you who know me know that I always have some time to chat with you about our sea turtles. So you can only imagine my excitement over the past few weeks when Dr. Jillian Amy Hudgins dropped by Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu to host special joint events! Dr. Jillian is the project scientist of the Olive Ridley Project, a non-profit organization actively fighting ghost nets across the Indian Ocean. Today I want to share all about our time with Dr. Jillian with you, the readers of Coco Cares.

Dr. Jillian Hudgens (R) with Chiara Fumagalli (L)

Dr. Jillian Hudgens (R) with Chiara Fumagalli (L)

At both the resorts, Dr. Jillian received such a warm welcome from our guests and associates who were very eager to discover all about our sea turtles. The attentive audience was very keen to learn all about the solitary behavior of sea turtles and their entire life at sea, coming on land only to lay eggs and coming up to the ocean surface for breathing.

For some, it was surprising to discover the importance of turtles to maintain healthy coral reefs since omnivore Hawksbill turtles feed on invasive sponges and herbivore Green turtles maintain sea grass beds so that fish can lay eggs within the sheltered leaves, with the roots preventing sand erosion.

Additionally, Dr. Jillian also briefed them about baby turtles and their survival rates. Very few turtle hatchlings survive to reach adult stages despite the fact that big turtles do not have a lot of natural enemies! Sadly, humans have become their number one enemies in recent times.

Even though associates of Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu have already been involved in rescuing turtles that have been entangled in ghost fishing nets, Dr. Jillian and I explained the best turtle rescue guidelines as well as net identification protocol to eager associates. Net identification protocol is an intriguing method used to discover the origin point of the ghost nets that end up in Maldives.

The presentation also identified the best turtle rescue guidelines

The presentation also identified the best turtle rescue guidelines

By the end of the associate’s presentation, all of them were able to tell the difference between a Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle and an Olive Ridley turtle, which is the most commonly encountered species entangled in ghost nets.

After the presentation at Coco Bodu Hithi, it was time for the much anticipated snorkeling trip! Even though the weather conditions were not that favorable, some brave associates gathered near the Water Villas with Dr. Jillian and I to see if we could encounter some of our star sea turtles.

Associates of Coco Bodu Hithi gathered near the Water Villas for the snorkeling excursion

Associates of Coco Bodu Hithi gathered near the Water Villas for the snorkeling excursion

After snorkeling at the beautiful house reef for a few minutes, we encountered on of the 71 Hawksbill turtles identified at Coco Bodu Hithi and the surroundings. The recently discovered female HK1179 GNOCCA! We also came across a small net and luckily, it had not yet had the chance to harm any marine animals and we proceeded to remove it immediately.

Over at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, associates joined Dr. Jillian and I, along with Jade, our new Marine Biology intern for a fun afternoon of lagoon cleaning around the island. We also enjoyed observing some colorful marine life around the lagoon.

After spending some time with the associates it was time to present to our in-house guests. Much to our excitement, Latitude Bar and Conch Bar were fully booked for the nights! Dr. Jillian’s presentation to our guests revealed the life of sea turtles in the Indian Ocean and the role they play, not only in the ecosystem, but in the tourism industry as well. Sea turtles are among the most charismatic of our underwater animals and divers and snorkelers are always willing to experience a close encounter with them here in Maldives.

Presentation for the guests of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Presentation for the guests of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

By explaining their fascinating biology and behavior, Dr. Jillian informed how endangered all sea turtle species are nowadays and how important is to protect them from extinction. Our guests also got to learn that during their holiday, they can contribute to sea turtle protection simply by snorkeling and diving with them, which shows their interest resulting in a higher economic value in the tourism industry for sea turtles.

Moreover, guests were also informed on how to actively participate in our Turtle ID Program by taking ID pictures and sending them to the Marine Biologists. This program is slowly but constantly providing us with precious information about the turtle population, migrations and behavior in Maldives. We also informed guests of the problems associated with ghost nets entangling turtles in Maldives and all over the world and how they can actively make a difference by supporting the consumption of sustainably fished products. At the end of the presentation, quite a few of the guests raised some questions related to fishing techniques and turtle nesting areas, which Dr. Jillian and I were more than happy to answer.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle tangled in a ghost net at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle tangled in a ghost net at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Once again, the weather was not so favorable at Coco Bodu Hithi and the guest excursion with Dr. Jillian was cancelled. But we received a surprise a few days later when guests sent us some pictures of their turtle encounter and guess which superstar it was? CHLOE!

HK270 CHLOE with some of our guests in early November

HK270 CHLOE with some of our guests in early November

At Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day for snorkeling. Guests were eager to sign up for the excursion and we were fully booked as we headed out to spot our turtles. Dr. Jillian, Jade and I guided our guests to the snorkeling areas and we actually spotted HK832 DAWKINS, one of the first turtles I identified in March 2013. It was also great to encounter HK632 EMILIA, identified 1 year ago by our honeymooner guests at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu.

Yes, I have made this blog post a bit lengthier than usual but only because I wanted to share everything with you! It was a very special event close to the hearts of all our guests and associates and I am very grateful to Dr. Jillian for her efforts and to all our associates for their commitment! Now, if you readers have any questions about our precious sea turtles, feel free to leave me a comment down below and I hope to see you join us some day.

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