Sea turtles are amazing creatures, but they are...
Sea turtles are amazing creatures, but they are under threat.
May 23rd 2021 is World Turtle Day, so we wanted to take a moment to share a little more information about the work of an amazing sea life charity, The Olive Ridley Project (ORP), who Sea Change support through the donations made with every bottle of wine purchased.
The Olive Ridley Project is on a mission to protect sea turtles and their habitats through rescue and rehabilitation of injured sea turtles, scientific research, and education and outreach, in partnership with
At the core of the work of The Olive Ridley Project is a passionate and dedicated team of scientists, veterinarians, conservationists, citizen scientists and volunteers. In 2017, we opened the first veterinarian-run marine turtle rescue centre in the Maldives. This was followed by a second rehabilitation centre in 2019.
What is the story behind how and when the Olive ridley project was founded?
Olive Ridley Project (ORP) was founded by Dr. Martin Stelfox in 2013. During his time working as a biologist in the Maldives, he recorded a countless number of sea turtles entangled in ghost nets (abandoned or lost fishing nets). Curious to understand why this was happening and where the nets were coming from, he enlisted the help of other biologists and citizen scientists to help answer these questions.
Martin's dedication and passion for helping these prehistoric reptiles formed the foundations of ORP, which later expanded its mission to take a multifaceted and holistic approach to protecting sea turtles and their habitats.
What does a regular day at the Marine Turtle Rescue centre involve?
The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre is always abuzz with activity! A normal day will involve not only medical procedures like wound care, injections and physical examinations, but also important husbandry tasks like cleaning the tanks, managing the pump and filter systems, and feeding the turtles - which is always a key time to assess their progress.
If we have a surgical procedure to undertake, such as a flipper amputation, this will generally be a full-day affair, with the procedure taking place over the course of the morning, and then recovering the turtle from anaesthetic in the afternoon, as well as cleaning and re-setting the clinic for the next procedure. Running alongside all of this is our guest education, with our vet, intern and volunteers always on hand to talk to and educate visitors to the Rescue Centre. They always have wonderful questions and leave with a deeper understanding of the conservation threats that sea turtles face, while also being able to see the effects directly in front of their eyes.
What else does the ORP do, aside from rescuing and rehabilitating turtles?
ORP take a multifaceted and holistic approach to protecting sea turtles and their habitats. In addition to rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles, we conduct research on sea turtle population health and abundance, threats to sea turtles and their habitats, as well as spatial ecology, parasitology, sea turtle behaviour, genetics and fishery related threats.
The aim is to fill data gaps in sea turtle conservation, and we publish scientific papers and attend international conferences to communicate our findings.
People protect what they love, and they love what they know. Hence, we believe in education as a powerful tool to increase awareness, engage people and stimulate action. We educate school children, communities, divers, fishermen, tourists, resort staff, biologists, and the general public — anyone who is interested, really — in person and online. We also offer volunteer and internship programs, including a Visiting Veterinary Program, at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre. During the pandemic we were unable to meet people face to face, so we created an online learning platform with free courses about everything sea turtle! It is very popular and has hundreds of enrolled students.
We also strongly believe that focusing on local issues specific to a community, while at the same time showing why it matters in the bigger picture, is the most effective way to create lasting change. So, we collaborate with affected industries, communities, and governments, as well as other NGOs and research institutes, to apply research to practice and work at both local and policy levels to manage and mitigate the threat of ghost gear to sea turtles and their habitats.
removing ghost nets from the seas
In Pakistan, for example, we have successfully established a circular economy project based on recovered and recycled ghost gear. Working with small fishing communities, we turn the ghost gear into dog leashes and bracelets which are sold online. So far, volunteers have recovered 4 tons of ghost gear from the sea and beaches near the village! The design and sale of ghost net bracelets and dog leashes provide local work. Work that can provide a significant addition to the household income of a fisher family. All profits from the sales of “Ghost Leashes'' go back to the community.
In the Maldives, we collaborate with the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) on a similar project, aiming to achieve the first fishery in the world to recover more ghost gear than it generates. Small-scale tuna fishers are incentivised to collect and upcycle lost and abandoned ghost nets they encounter whilst fishing. The fishers are also trained in how to safely release sea turtles caught in any nets they retrieve (or report injured sea turtles to ORP so we can rehabilitate them). After the nets are transported to land and stored in a dedicated facility, the Women’s Development Committee (WDC) of Gemanafushi island will take part in processing and upcycling the used fishing gear into products that can be sold for profit to the local tourism industry. The partnership with IPNLF began in early 2020 when IPNLF was awarded the World Animal Protection’s first annual Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award and received further funding from Satlink. Due to the pandemic, the project got a delayed start, but in November 2020, fishers of Gemanafushi Island recovered four massive fishing nets and safely released an entangled turtle.
Last month (April 2021) you released Seaheart back to the ocean, can you tell us a bit about his story?
Seaheart, an adult male olive ridley turtle, was found by fishermen in a huge ghost net with all 4 flippers entangled. Unfortunately, his left flipper was so badly damaged that only the bone was left sticking out and it needed amputation. The other 3 flippers were severely damaged, with bone exposure on all 3, but we knew that with dedicated wound care, he would be able to heal.
Every day for the first 3 weeks he was taken out of his tank, had his wounds cleaned, debrided (meaning removal of dead tissue) and then dressed with manuka honey and bandages. He had x-rays when he arrived and then 3-4 weeks thereafter, to monitor the progression of his healing as well as antibiotics, pain relief and regular blood tests to manage his significant infection from all the open wounds. After just over 2 months, he had nearly fully healed and that, combined with his excellent diving and swimming ability, meant he was more than ready to go home!
On his release day, he took a short while to adjust to the sea and to regulate his buoyancy, but he soon dived deep into the blue. Sadly, we are no stranger to severe wounds like Seaheart had. Ghost nets frequently cause this degree of damage. It was just lucky that Seaheart was found when he was, otherwise he was a week or so away from losing all his flippers — which he would never have been able to recover from.
How can people support the ORP?
There are many ways people can support ORP! Our turtle patients can be adopted for a one-time or monthly donation. You can also name and adopt an identified wild turtle or adopt one of our “famous” turtles that already has a name but which we encounter on a regular basis. Every time we spot your turtle you will be notified. Turtle adoptions are also a great gift idea – it's personalized, environmentally friendly and it gives back! You can also join ORP 3.0, our monthly giving program, or make a one-off gift.
For those who like to get personally involved and hands-on, consider volunteering with us at the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre or —when it is once again possible — join us on a research expedition mission.
We are also really grateful to everyone who helps us increase awareness by sharing our posts and articles on social media so we can reach a larger audience. You can even take it one step further by enrolling in our e-Turtle School and becoming an ORP Turtle Ambassador!
Many businesses support us by donating part of their profits to ORP, so you can check out our partner page and purchase from these great companies. We are soon launching a new corporate partnership program as well, so if your business would like to get involved, get in touch with us on email@example.com!
What are your hopes for the future of the ORP?
We hope to broaden our data collection and fill scientific data gaps in sea turtle research by improving our understanding of sea turtle ecology, such as how they use different habitats, for example. We also plan to grow our rescue and rehabilitation operations in the Indian Ocean and beyond and expand our circular economy projects to new locations in the Indian Ocean region.
In addition, we also hope to further develop our educational outreach programs and online learning platform so we can teach even more people about these iconic animals and hope that they fall in love with them too!
Our ultimate goal is to be able to apply our research to help guide governments and industry in making informed sea turtle conservation decisions at policy level. Sea turtle conservation is a global issue that requires international collaboration and solutions. We already sit on several working groups of organisations working on global tuna and ocean sustainability, and we will continue to widen our collaboration with NGOs, governments, industry, universities, schools and businesses to reach our goals.
Can you share a fun turtle fact that not many people know?
Sea turtles can hold their breath for up to 8 hours when resting
A group of sea turtles is called a bale
Sea turtles do not have teeth
Sea turtles have spikes in their oesophagus which allow them to keep food in but jet water out so they don’t swallow too much when they eat!