Celebrating 2 years of the Sea Turtle Identification Program

Lisa and Jade, our Marine Biology interns, have a lot to share with us to celebrate 2 fantastic years collaborating with the Maldives Sea Turtle Identification Program. Here’s what they have to say!

An ecosystem as vast as the ocean sends Marine Biologists on never ending quests to explore and uncover the mysteries of what lies beneath the surface of the sea. In 2013, eager to develop an understanding of sea turtle population dynamics, Coco Collection’s resident Marine Biologist Chiara Fumagalli jumped into the crystal clear waters surrounding Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and set out on a mission to identify every sea turtle she could find!

Individual sea turtles can be easily recognized by the scale shapes on both sides of their heads, like a fingerprint, this is the only feature that will remain the same for their whole lives.

Can you spot the difference?

Photographic identification is a great technique to study endangered species such as Hawksbill and Green sea turtles because it is non-invasive and requires little to no training- just a camera! The project started out of pure scientific curiosity with the identification of one single turtle, HK284 “MARTHA” and has now grown to include a total of 152 hawksbill sea turtles and 1 green turtle!

HK284 “MARTHA” Coco Collection’s resorts first identified sea turtle!)

HK284 “MARTHA” Coco Collection’s resorts first identified sea turtle!

The cherry topping to the rapid success of our turtle ID program is that with 384 recorded turtle sightings in 2014, Coco Collection’s resorts have been recognized by the National Sea Turtle Identification Project as the 2nd top submitter of turtle sightings in the Maldives.

The data we are collecting as part of photo ID project are used to:

  • Determine the exact population of sea turtles present in the Maldives
  • Understand the movements of turtles between reefs as well as larger migration patterns
  • Study the distribution of turtles to try to recognize feeding or nesting “hotspots” and juvenile recruitment areas that may warrant official protection and for the government to implement better legislation to protect our sea turtle populations.

In 1995, the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture banned the catching or killing of sea turtle species, in addition to the importation and sale of turtle products. Unfortunately, despite reports stating that sea turtle populations are declining, this ban will end at the end of 2015. It is our hope that a Maldives wide photographic data-base of sea turtles coupled with current and historical information of their populations will help support and strengthen this ban.

HK318 “ALEXIS” showing her acrobatic skills to DK associates!

HK318 “ALEXIS” showing her acrobatic skills to DK associates!

Want to join hands with researchers to support this ban? Here’s how you can join us!

Every time you encounter a sea turtle at Coco Collection, please take 2 pictures for individual identification:  LEFT SIDE and RIGHT SIDE of the HEAD (and FULL BODY if possible). Send these images to marine.biologist@cococollection.com together with date and site location.

The success of our sea turtle identification program would not be possible without the valuable contributions from our wonderful guests. In 2014, 93 photographic ID pictures were taken by our guests and emailed to us for identification!

THANK YOU!

Guest enjoying the company of HK 309 “FRO” at Coco Bodu Hithi

Guest enjoying the company of HK 309 “FRO” at Coco Bodu Hithi

Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

We are currently surveying 13 sites for sea turtles across Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and surrounding areas in the Baa Atoll. 2014 was a turtely great year for turtle encounters. Yes, we HAD to use the pun ;)

  • We registered 179 sea turtle sightings in total
  • We identified 51 NEW hawksbill turtles!!!
  • We now have a TOTAL of 73 hawksbill sea turtles in our data base:

20 are residents of the Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu House Reef

66 are juveniles (shell length is less than 50 cm)

7 adult turtles are females and we did not identify a male turtles

Map of inhabitant turtles at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and surrounding reefs

Map of inhabitant turtles at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and surrounding reefs

Meet the turtle ambassadors of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and surroundings: HK 528, also known as “KENO”! Keen to be seen, KENO has been spotted 24 times at our House Reef.

HK 528 “KENO” Doesn’t let you say goodbye without giving you a hug!

HK 528 “KENO” Doesn’t let you say goodbye without giving you a hug!

“ELIANA” is our “let’s go take a selfie” turtle waiting for a photo-shoot with you!

HK 2057 “MANDEVILLE” is missing half of its front flipper, but is fit and ready to represent her reef:  the Muthaafushi House Reef, in the next turtle Paralympics!

HK 2057- “Mandeville: turtle Paralympics here I come!”

HK 2057- “Mandeville: turtle Paralympics here I come!”

Coco Bodu Hithi  

2014 has been an equally amazingly productive year for the sea turtle identification program at Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Privè in North Male’ Atoll.

  • We registered 206 sea turtle sightings in total.
  • We NEWLY identified 48 Hawksbill sea turtles!
  • We now have a TOTAL of 88 Hawksbill sea turtles and 1 Green sea turtle in our data base:

41 are residents of the Bodu Hithi House Reef and Turtle Point

54 are juveniles (shell length is less than 50 cm)

33 adult turtles are female, 1 adult turtle is male

Map of inhabitant turtles at the 14 snorkeling and diving sites we are surveying in the North Male atoll

Map of inhabitant turtles at the 14 snorkeling and diving sites we are surveying in the North Male atoll

From our 14 surveying sites, the Bodu Hithi House Reef and Bodu Hithi Turtle Point are our most frequently visited ones because they are easily accessible. As you can see, we are very lucky because we have many sea turtles that choose to be our neighbors.

Map of resident sea turtles at Coco Bodu Hithi House Reef and Turtle Point

Map of resident sea turtles at Coco Bodu Hithi House Reef and Turtle Point

Meet the turtle inhabitants of Coco Bodu Hithi and surroundings:

HK307 “ZHENG” our most sighted turtle at Bodu Hithi House Reef wins the gold medal for 25 sightings in 2014!

HK307 “ZHENG” going for a breath at Bodu Hithi House Reef

HK307 “ZHENG” going for a breath at Bodu Hithi House Reef

Our only male HK342 “MONTY” possesses a massive carapace and a long tail, the only feature that helps us distinguish a male from a female sea turtle.

HK342 “MONTY” the one with the long tail

HK342 “MONTY” the one with the long tail

HK819 “GALILEO” a juvenile hawksbill sea turtle living at Bodu Hithi House Reef. Since GALELEO is social and curious, it was the first one we tried to measure and its carapace is 45 cm sharp!

Measuring HK819 GALILEO

Measuring HK819 GALILEO

Sea turtles play a very important role in keeping our oceans healthy and are a major attraction for snorkelers and divers in the Maldives. Although we have collected a lot of data on sea turtles in a relatively short period of time, many questions still remain, the most important one being “what is the best strategy to protect the Maldivian sea turtle population?”

The success of our sea turtle identification program is a direct outcome of the effort and time invested by our resident Marine Biologist Chiara, interns Jesse, Filippo, Emilia, Lisa and Jade as well as our wonderful guests and associates.

We could not do it alone, so let’s all grab our cameras and go explore the beautiful waters surrounding us in the search for turtles to identify!

Who knew conservation could be so much fun ?

Jade and HK 2015 “Edibo” having a turtely good time at the Dhuni Kolhu House Reef

Jade and HK 2015 “Edibo” having a turtely good time at the Dhuni Kolhu House Reef

 

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2 responses to “Celebrating 2 years of the Sea Turtle Identification Program

  1. I’m really proud of you Chiara and of all the people are supporting you to realize this incredibile and clever project. Thank you

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