The Olive Ridley Project attends the 36th International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS)

The 36th International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS) was held in Lima, Peru between February 29th and March 4th 2016. Martin Stelfox and Dr. Jillian Hudgins from the team at the Olive Ridley Project attended the symposium to present their work and engage with other organizations.

Today, Dr. Jillian Hudgins, ORP’s Senior Project Scientist, shares her experience at this year’s International Sea Turtle Symposium. Former Coco Collection resident marine biologist Chiara Fumagalli deserves a special mention for her breakthrough scientific insights using photo identification! Read all about their time below.

Photo credits: Dr. Jillian Hudgins: 2 Llamas overlooking the famous “Machu Picchu” World Heritage Site in Peru

Photo credits: Dr. Jillian Hudgins: 2 Llamas overlooking the famous “Machu Picchu” World Heritage Site in Peru

The International Sea Turtle Symposium proved to be an excellent opportunity to share our knowledge and passion with other professionals from the field.

Martin and I organized the first ever ghost gear workshop! We invited some of the world’s leading experts to share their research and experience on this topic. After a very fruitful discussion, it became obvious that ORP alone cannot solve the issue of sea turtle entanglements. We need a collective effort to better understand and protect sea turtle populations from the negative effects of ghost gear. ORP is now working on a public platform to gather and share all information on ghost gear and sea turtle entanglements throughout the Indian Ocean.

Another milestone in the history of the annual symposium was the first Sea Turtle Photo Identification workshop! I assisted the workshop and presented a poster on my work involving photo identification of sea turtles in the Maldives.

For my latest visit to Coco Bodu Hithi in April 2016, I brought the poster with me. It was displayed during my presentations and in front of the Marine Biology Center to acknowledge Coco Collection’s continued effort to better understand and protect sea turtles in the Maldives.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Coco Collection for helping us attend the symposium!

From Peru to the Maldives - Dr. Jillian Hudgins proudly presents scientific data obtained through photo identification

From Peru to the Maldives – Dr. Jillian Hudgins proudly presents scientific data obtained through photo identification

Photo identification has emerged quite recently as a method to monitor sea turtles. It is a non-invasive approach compared to tagging, which forces a metal or plastic tag into the tissue of an animal. Photo identification, on the other hand, takes advantage of the unique scale pattern in a sea turtle’s face. Nothing more than taking a picture of the scale pattern is required!

The big advantage: Everyone can use this method! All you need is an underwater camera and the will to go snorkeling in the clear waters of the Maldives. Doesn’t sound too bad! Your marine biologist will introduce you to the method and right away, you are prepared to become a citizen scientist during your holidays! By submitting photo identification pictures, you are contributing to important research projects on sea turtles.

Dr. Jillian Hudgins taking a photo identification picture of Hawksbill sea turtle HK1075 SENGE

Dr. Jillian Hudgins taking a photo identification picture of Hawksbill sea turtle HK1075 SENGE

Former Coco Collection resident marine biologist Chiara Fumagalli was a supporter of the Maldives Photo Identification program from the very beginning. She founded the Coco Collection Sea Turtle Identification Project and was regularly one of the top submitters of identification pictures to the Maldivian-wide database. Her passion for sea turtles spread among guests and colleagues, involving them in the project.

Chiara had a talent for getting everyone excited about spotting sea turtles in the wild. In fact, swimming with sea turtles is a special experience! At Coco Collection, you even have the chance to “adopt” and name newly identified sea turtles. Each new individual will receive a unique code and name and its namesakes receive updates whenever their sea turtle is spotted.

Hawksbill sea turtle HK270 CHLOE - Photo identified since February 2013 and one of the most popular residents of Coco Bodu Hithi House Reef

Hawksbill sea turtle HK270 CHLOE – Photo identified since February 2013 and one of the most popular residents of Coco Bodu Hithi House Reef

Chiara’s photo submissions also recorded two breakthrough discoveries in Maldivian sea turtle science.

Photographing and measuring resident Hawksbill sea turtle HK307 ZHENG over 4.5 years revealed that the supposed adult female was actually…a premature male! At a shell length of 62cm, ZHENG suddenly grew the characteristic long tail of mature male sea turtles.

This important finding helped to narrow down the size at maturity for Maldivian male Hawksbill sea turtles. It also represents the first record of the maturation process of a sea turtle in the Maldives.

Marine Biology Intern Inês measuring juvenile Hawksbill sea turtle HK548 ALLEGRA

Marine Biology Intern Inês measuring juvenile Hawksbill sea turtle HK548 ALLEGRA

Another first record in the Maldives: Chiara and interns photographed Green sea turtle GR362 CINDITHA returning to nest five times in 2015!

This allowed for the first calculation of the inter-nesting period for Green sea turtles in the Maldives (that is, the number of days between nesting attempts for a female).

Green sea turtle GR362 CINDITHA on a nesting marathon in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Green sea turtle GR362 CINDITHA on a nesting marathon in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Photo identification makes it possible for researchers and citizen scientists alike to recognize individual animals. This has allowed for a more detailed study of individual sea turtles, which eventually will reveal patterns of residency and movement between reefs.

Coco Collection’s marine biologists and interns are carrying the torch and continuing to engage guests and colleagues in photo identification projects.

Should you have any questions about these topics please do not hesitate to ask: the ORP team and the marine biologists of Coco Collection are always keen to answer!

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