The 35th International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS) was held in Dalaman, Turkey from April 18-24th 2015. Olive Ridley Project staff Martin Stelfox and Dr.Jillian Hudgins, as well as ORP volunteer Danielle Gravon, attended the symposium to present their work.
Today Dr. Jillian Hudgins, Olive Ridley Project ’s Senior Project Scientist, shares with CocoCares’ followers her experience at the last International Sea Turtle Symposium.
We were happy to meet people from all over the world who are involved in the protection of sea turtles through research, rehabilitation and community outreach. However, it was evident that there is still a lot of work to be done!
There were sessions on a full spectrum of topics, including advances in Anatomy and Biology; Nesting; Fisheries and Threats; Conservation; and Community Education.
ORP staff also attended mini workshops on Rehabilitation, Bio-logging (satellite tracking) and Turtles and Tourism.
ORP’s founder Martin Stelfox gave a short presentation of ghost gear and their effects on sea turtles at the Indian Ocean – South-East Asia (IOSEA) regional workshop, which included representatives from countries around the Indian Ocean.
Martin and I co-authored a poster that summarized the first year (July 2013-July 2014) of ORP’s data collection program in the Maldives.
It outlined the number, species, and sizes of turtles found entangled and documented mesh sizes from the ghost net conglomerates retrieved from Maldivian waters.
A copy of this poster is now displayed at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Marine Biology Centre.
At the conference, we attended workshops and poster presentations about how other projects and communities were approaching threats to sea turtles in their local areas. From community building and educational programs to rigorous research and rehabilitation techniques, the team was inspired with new ways to approach and create awareness about ghost nets and turtle interactions.
Sea turtles face a number of natural hazards, but human-related threats such as bycatch, pollution, poaching and marine debris pose even greater risks to all species.
We were surprised to find that the dangers of ghost gear to turtles didn’t seem to be a well-researched subject, although we did see entanglement encounters presented from other places in the world.
Nearing the end of the conference I, went off-site to visit the Dekamer Turtle Rescue Center near Iztuzu Beach on the south west coast of Turkey.
Equipped with and x-ray and blood analysis capabilities, the center helps injured turtles rescued in the area, of which most are adult loggerheads that have been victims of boat strikes and bycatch. Touring the facility, we got some ideas for our own rescue center opening soon at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resort in the Maldives. There was also a demonstration of a number of first aid techniques.
I also presented a poster on the work I have been doing with the Maldivian Government: TurtleWatch Maldives.
TurtleWatch Maldives is a new monitoring program designed by the Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) aimed at collecting standardized data on foraging and nesting sea turtles throughout the Maldives from biologists and citizen scientists.
Until now there has been no systematic collection of quantitative data for marine turtles in the Maldives, making it difficult to study trends in populations, though data from elsewhere in the Indian Ocean suggest a declining trend for most species due to the direct take of turtles and eggs for consumption, entanglement in active or ghost fishing gear, ingestion of plastics and loss of nesting habitat.
TurtleWatch Maldives involves a Photo-ID component (identifying individual animals by using natural markings on their bodies; such as the scales on the side of a turtle’s face). Photo-ID is an ideal way to study endangered species, such as sea turtles, as you do not have to have any direct contact with the animal, nor do you need to take any biological samples in order to identify it as an individual.
In a place like the Maldives, a Photo-ID program is also an ideal way to involve citizen scientists (every day people without formal scientific training) as it simply involves taking a clear, focused photo of a sea turtle while snorkeling; something that is done by tourists hundreds of times a day in the Maldives!
All of these photos taken by divers and tourists alike can be used to construct the population of sea turtles using particular reefs and study their long-term movements between reefs in the Maldives.
The poster that I presented at ISTS analyzed the results of the first few years of data collection using Photo-ID in the Maldives.I calculated the populations of sea turtles around a number of different reefs in Baa, North Male, and South Ari atoll using only photographic re-sightings of animals.
In case you might have any questions about these topics please don’t hesitate to ask: ORP staff and Coco Collection Marine Biologists are always keen to answer!