THE OLIVE RIDLEY PROJECT GOES TO THE MALDIVES AND TO PAKISTAN

When we signed our partnership with the Olive Ridley Project back in January 2015 we knew we were embarking on a unique journey. Today we are excited to share with you the latest news brought to us by Martin Stelfox, ORP founder and Chief Executive.

 ORP has been as busy as ever over the last period!

I have spent most of my time in the field with my first stop in the Maldives.

A two day workshop based in Malè, hosted by the Marine Research Centre – Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MRC) and the Indian Ocean South East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding was conducted. The aim of the workshop was to address the various threats to sea turtles in the Northern Indian Ocean region, which includes Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.

The workshop was extremely successful and ORP was honoured to be a part of this great step forward in sea turtle conservation.

Attending the workshop in Malè

Attending the workshop in Malè

I had the chance to give a presentation highlighting the need for increasing evidence to support the unknown threat ghost gear faces to turtle populations.

Pakistan Sindh Wildlife department was the first to recognise this problem amongst the group and believe this is a considerable issue in Pakistan: future plans for collaborative effort on ghost gear are already underway!

Other countries recognised that ghost gear continues to be an unknown threat to sea turtles and as such ORP will be the main advisors on issues relating to ghost gear in this region and will work with various NGO and governments to establish clear methods to reduce ghost gear production regionally.

ORP infographic: the destructive Ghost Gear Cycle

ORP infographic: the destructive Ghost Gear Cycle

After the two day productive workshop I travelled to various resorts in the Maldives giving presentations to guests and staff. Topics covered included what to do when finding ghost gear and how to collect precious nets data.

Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu was my last stop in the Maldives and I had a great time over there. Guests and associates attendance at ORP presentations is always extraordinary at this very special resort!

I believe in being proactive when it comes to conservation so it didn’t take long before we went on an exciting adventure in search of ghost gear in south Baa Atoll. Although during this time of the year it is unlikely to find much ghost gear, the sea conditions were perfect and we could see for miles.

Eventually the boat stopped off at a beautiful reef we snorkelled and Chiara, Coco Collection’s resident marine biologist, soon yelled for my help. She found a ghost net and a big one at that!

Martin and Chiara in action

Martin and Chiara in action

It didn’t take the team very long to get stuck into removing it and within 20 mins the net was free from the reef and removed from the ocean.

Luckily we did not find any marine life trapped in it. Ghost gear shows no mercy to marine life and will entangle anything that is unfortunate enough to get too close!

Every year hundreds of sea turtles are found entangled in nets suffering severe injuries. In the Maldives there is a lack of properly equipped facilities to nurse these turtles back to health and we must act to help the many sea turtles we find entangled.

3 Olive Ridley turtles rescued by Dive Ocean Dhuni Kolhu team in March 2015

Three Olive Ridley turtles rescued by Dive Ocean Dhuni Kolhu team in March 2015

Coco Collection and ORP are now working hard on the final designs of the Sea Turtle Rescue Centre and continue to raise funds to get the centre built as soon as possible. We are both very excited for this project and even more excited to help the many turtles we find entangled in the Maldives!

After the Maldives I then made my way over to Karachi, Pakistan.
This was a project funded through the Rufford Foundation that aims to understand the issue surrounding ghost gear in Pakistan.

I travelled to five fishing communities trying to understand the issue and identify why gear is lost within Sindh region.

The first thing that I noticed was the severe lack of basic resources for fishers in many communities. Often electric, clean water and education were non-existent in many villages. Furthermore no facilities exist for disposing old fishing gear safely and very little efforts have been made to approach this growing problem.

Conducting fisher surveys in the island of Baba, Sindh District

Conducting fisher surveys in the island of Baba, Sindh District

Fishers in Karachi use a large diversity of equipment but the biggest problem remains with monofilament gill nets and multifialment trawling nets.

Gill-netters reported loosing gear on a daily basis and dives conducted by ORP around local reefs made it clear the extent of lost gear. The topography of the sea floor in Pakistan makes snagging gear on obstructions a common occurrence.

Recovering lost fishing gear at Charna island in Pakistan

Recovering lost fishing gear at Charna island in Pakistan

We plan on working with the Sindh Wildlife Department and WWF- Pakistan as well as the local diving community to clean up the area and address the issue from the onset. Pakistan coastline is extensive, extending around 1,050km.

Sindh coastline only makes up 250km with Balochistan making up 800km.We also plan on extending their reach further to quantify this problem on a national scale.

Already ORP Pakistan has been launched via social media consisting of a group of divers and independent conservationists. The aim of this group is to act as a platform for communication between the fishing and diving community where divers can respond to lost gear instantly and retrieve it back to the fishers.

Fishers in Sindh are at a point of desperation. An increase in fishing pressure over the past 30 years has seen a serious decline of life in the ocean. Fishers are travelling further and staying out longer using cheaper nets and this recipe makes for an alarming problem of ghost gear.

With the fishing community of Mubarak village

With the fishing community of Mubarak village

Whilst I only saw a very small part of Pakistan what worries me most is the extent of this problem along the entire coastline.

My will is to return to Pakistan early next year to continue the project and work with key stakeholders to address this problem using a removal, recycling and educational program.

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