Project Overview

Maldives Turtle ID Project - map of survey sites

[A]ll seven species of sea turtles found worldwide are listed as threatened by the IUCN Red List. Five of them can be seen in Maldivian waters, with the Hawksbill turtle and the Green turtle being the most commonly sighted species. Among the major threats to sea turtles, egg and meat poaching and entanglement in marine debris remain the most important causes of the observed nationwide decline in populations over recent decades.

Although all species of turtles have been protected by law in the Maldives since 1995, little information is available about their population numbers. Our Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Programme started in 2011 and aims to create the first Maldives-wide photographic database of sea turtles in order to study population dynamics, migrations and habitat use. Photographs taken by marine biologists, divers and tourists alike can help us understand the movements of sea turtles.

visit Maldives Turtle ID page on Facebook

The most important part of the Turtle ID photograph is a closeup of the facial scales, so individuals may be identified using profile coding and our ID database. If you have any suitable photos, we would love to add them to our database ! Please visit our Maldives Turtle ID Facebook group for details on how to send us your photos.

[W]e are always on the lookout to increase our network of contacts in all atolls across the Maldives, especially in the more Northern atolls, as well as Lhaviyani, Addu, and S.Malé. If you would like to participate in our turtle conservation projects, or know of anyone that might be interested, please Contact Us and help to spread the word to other marine biologists and local environmental groups. Thank you !

Visit our Maldives Turtle ID group on Facebook

2013 Year End Statistics

  • We identified 367 new Hawksbill turtles and 40 new Green turtles during 2013.
  • Our database totals at year-end are 641 Hawksbill turtles and 67 Green turtles, with 1982 total sightings.
  • The project expanded this year from just the two survey atolls in our original initiative, to the current total of ten different atolls up and down the country.
  • More than 800 new ID photographs were taken by our participants in 2013, and emailed to us for identification and inclusion in our centralised database.

Wild Hawksbill turtle at Voavah

A wild Hawksbill turtle looking for food on the reef – spotted at Voavah whilst on turtle safari

January 2014 Updates

[T]he Maldives Sea Turtle Identification Program has been busy this month, with three very active atolls (Baa, N.Malé, and Ari) and new sightings coming from Dhaalu, Laamu and Noonu atolls.

  • We are now surveying 147 sites across the country.
  • Between participants, we were able to identify a further 158 turtles this month.
  • Totals to date are now : 712 Hawksbill turtles, 71 Green turtles and 1 Loggerhead turtle, with over 2200 total sightings !
  • 44% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • This month we welcomed one new participant to the turtle identification program: Cheval Blanc in Noonu atoll.

Many sites in Baa Atoll are now at 80% resighting rate, meaning that we can now accurately estimate the turtle populations for these reefs – Finolhas (250 sightings of 66 individuals), Maadhirivaadhoo (71 sightings of 20 individuals), Voavah (85 sightings of 15 individuals), and Hulhudhoo (19 sightings of 6 individuals).

This month we had an exciting ID from Maa Giri of HK624 who had previously been sighted at Muthaafushi, over 4km away ! There was also another sighting of “NOAH” (HK574), a juvenile Hawksbill released from Kuda Huraa in 2012 – his satellite tag is no longer transmitting, but we are happy to see that he is alive and healthy and living at Makunudhoo reef!

Around Ari Atoll, we discovered that Hawksbill turtles are moving between White Sands and Dhidhdhoo. We also had a re-sighting of turtle HK349, initially photographed at Bodufinolhu Thila (in July 2013) and now to be found at Dhidhdhoo, 12km away! This is the farthest we’ve seen a Hawksbill travel during this study.

Thanks to all the participants for their ID photos this month.

Hawksbill Turtle [HK476] [thanks Per Laumark, Maafushivaru)

Hawksbill Turtle [HK476] [thanks Per Laumark, Maafushivaru)

February Updates

  • We are currently surveying 145 sites across the Maldives for wild sea turtles.
  • Between participants, we identified a total of 188 turtles this month and now have 2,420 sightings in our database : 790 Hawksbill, 85 Green, and 1 Loggerhead turtle!
  • 44% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • Welcome to our new participant to the programme this month: Kandolhu, in Ari Atoll.

This month we had an exciting ID of HK2 ‘Tessa’ from Finolhas, who hadn’t been photographed since April 2012. In addition, Thomas le Berre (Seamarc Director and long term marine biologist here in Maldives) had been looking through his photo archives this month, and found some old shots of turtles taken way back in 2004. We were pleased to be able to identify one of the turtles as HK160 ‘Sencha’, who is still seen on the Kuda Huraa house reef today, 10 years later!

HK240 “SPOOK” was seen 3 times at Voavah reef this month [ID 2014.02]

HK240 “SPOOK” was seen 3 times at Voavah reef this month

March Updates

  • We are currently surveying 168 sites across the Maldives.
  • Between participants, we identified a total of 128 turtles this month and now have a grand total of 2,556 sightings in our database!
  • We have so far identified 843 Hawksbill turtles, 89 Green turtles, and 1 Loggerhead turtle.
  • 43% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • We added sites from three new atolls this month (Shaviyani, Haa Alif, and Vaavu) thanks to some archived photos from Thomas le Berre.

HK749 - appears to have survived a shark bite (Rangali reef)

HK749 – appears to have survived a shark bite (photographed here at Rangali reef on 2 different days)

If you would like to submit a name for one of our turtles, please get in touch !

April Updates

Baa Atoll - turtle movements

Baa Atoll – turtle movements

[L]ooking in detail at the recorded movement of turtles between sites, we can identify the longest distances that have been travelled by our sighted turtles. A Green turtle that had first been photographed at Bathalaa reef was then spotted a few weeks later at Finolhas reef, over 13km away! And we’ve identified a male Hawksbill Turtle that has been swimming back and forth between Finolhas and Madhirivadhoo (a distance of 6km) – a type of behaviour that seems quite unusual from our data.

  • Our programme is currently surveying 175 sites for Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles.
  • 31% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • There are now 903 Hawksbill, 93 Green, and 1 Loggerhead turtle in our database!
  • Between participants, we identified a total of 199 turtles this month and now have 2762 sightings in our database!

Hawksbill turtle HK521 on the reef, Dhaalu atoll (thanks to Judith from Niyama)

Our most sighted Hawksbill turtle in Dhaalu atoll – HK521 on a beautiful reef (thanks to Judith from Niyama)

May Updates

  • Our programme is currently surveying 178 sites for Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles.
  • 48% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • There are now 956 Hawksbill, 97 Green, and 1 Loggerhead turtle in our database!
  • Between participants, we identified a total of 120 turtles this month and now have 2881 sightings in our database!

Green Turtle GR6 'Kiwi' (thanks to Inae Lee, Four Seasons)

Green Turtle GR6 ‘Kiwi’ (thanks to Inae Lee, Four Seasons)

June Updates

  • Our programme is currently surveying 184 sites for Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles.
  • 48% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • There are now 1003 Hawksbill, 110 Green, and 1 Loggerhead turtle in our database!
  • Between participants, we identified a total of 94 turtles this month and now have 2,990 sightings in our database!

Thanks to everyone for sending in photos this month, and a special mention to Rachel from Six Senses, who shared her 18-month photo archive (adding up to 13 sightings of 8 green turtles, plus 4 sightings of new hawksbills). And thanks to a guest submission, we also recorded our first ever turtle sighting from Faafu atoll.

Hawksbill turtle HK936 'Jule' - seen twice at Kuramathi during July

Hawksbill turtle HK936 ‘Jule’ – seen twice at Kuramathi during July

July Updates

  • Our programme is currently surveying over 200 sites for Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles.
  • 60% of the turtles identified this month were new to our database.
  • There are now 1098 Hawksbill, 148 Green, and 1 Loggerhead turtle in our database!
  • We identified a total of 240 turtles this month (our busiest ever!) and now have 3,236 sightings in our database.
  • We now have recorded turtles from every atoll except Shaviyani, Haa Dhaalu, Fuamulah, and Makunudhoo.
  • Over 100 turtles were submitted via the Facebook page, an incredible increase in activity!
  • Thanks to all marine biologists and divers who have been promoting the program to guests.
  • Lhaviyani Atoll – thanks to Jasmin from Prodivers and Naifaru Juvenile for submitting all of their archived sightings of turtles. This month we identified 77 turtles from Lhaviyani and 63% of those were new to the database.
  • Thaa Atoll – thanks to Francesco from Malefushi who submitted his archived turtle photos – our first sightings for Thaa atoll, adding up to 6 new turtles.
  • Addu Atoll – our first recorded sighting – a Hawksbill from Shangril-La House Reef.
  • Meemu Atoll – thanks to Federica from Medufushi resort who submitted two hawksbills from Medufushi House Reef – our first sightings logged for Meemu Atoll..
  • Gaaf Alif Atoll – thanks to Mari at Robinson Club for submitting the first IDs from Gaaf Alif – 6 Hawksbills and 1 Green turtle.

4 Green turtles - Clio (GR36), Darcey (GR136), Sabine (GR137), Princess Lea (GR141) - clockwise from top left

4 Green turtles (clockwise from top left) – Clio (GR36), Darcey (GR136), Sabine (GR137), Princess Lea (GR141)

 

Meet The Turtle Inhabitants of Dhonfan Reef

Dhonfan is an inhabited island located 11km south east of Landaa Giraavaru. It is home to around 300 people who live principally from fishing. The surrounding reefs are also home to abundant marine life including both Hawksbill and Green turtles. It is one of the few reefs in Baa atoll where you can regularly see Green turtles. Green turtles are vegetarians, consuming mainly seagrasses and therefore are not regularly seen on reef tops. Most mature green sea turtles spend their time on shallow beds of seagrass.

GR6, also known as Kiwi, has been photographed on Dhonfan’s reef four times over the last four years. She also frequents the nearby Dhonfan Thila, a popular dive site used by Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru. Kiwi is a juvenile green sea turtle, and at around 60cm carapace length is approximately 20 years old and not yet fully grown. She is often seen sitting on the reef top looking very relaxed, and does not shy away from approaching divers. When Kiwi becomes mature and ready to mate, she will undertake a migration to her nesting beach – the same beach on which she was born several decades ago!

Dhonfan reef - Green turtle GR6 Kiwi

Dhonfan reef – Green turtle GR6 Kiwi

Dhonfan reef - juvenile Green turtle GR6 Kiwi

Kiwi has been photographed 4 times


GR1, Peach, is a large female green sea turtle and was the first green turtle entered in our database! Her carapace is over a metre long, making her the biggest turtle observed on Dhonfan’s reef. Adult green sea turtles can grow up to 150cm long and weigh up to 190kg. Peach was observed on Dhonfan’s reef from 2010 until January 2012 but has not been photographed since.
We believe that Peach might have moved to another reef with more abundant food, however, there is a risk that Peach has been killed, as sadly the poaching of turtles for their meat is still an occasional occurrence in the Maldives despite all species of turtles being protected by law. In fact, Green turtles are listed as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List, making them a protected species worldwide. We do hope that Peach will someday be spotted again by our snorkelling excursion, alive and well on Dhonfan reef.

Dhonfan reef - Green turtle GR1 Peach

Dhonfan reef – large female Green turtle GR1 Peach

Dhonfan reef - Green turtle GR1 Peach

Peach has not been seen since 2012


HK27, Hookah, is an adult female hawksbill turtle regularly sighted on Dhonfan reef. She was once rescued by our divers and brought back to our rehabilitation centre to have a hook removed from her throat. Fishing lines and hooks present huge dangers to all marine life. Luckily we were able to help Hookah to prevent any further damage or infection cause by the hook embedded in her skin.
After being released from Landaa Giraavaru’s beach, she was able to find her way back home, being photographed at Dhonfan a few months later. Hawksbill turtles have amazing navigation abilities! It is thought that they navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a sort of compass mechanism in their brain.

Dhonfan reef - Hawksbill turtle HK27 Hookah - swimming wild again

Dhonfan reef – Hawksbill turtle HK27 Hookah – swimming wild

Dhonfan reef - Hawksbill turtle HK27 Hookah - hook removed

Hookah having the fish hook removed


The local island of Dhonfan

 

Meet The Turtle Inhabitants of Finolhas Reef

Finolhas Reef is located in Baa Atoll, 5km south of Landaa Giraavaru (see map, below). We have identified 65 Hawksbill and 2 Green turtles from this reef, the highest number of turtles identified on a reef from Baa atoll. Unfortunately, this island is under development for a new resort and parts of the reef and the turtles’ habitat have been destroyed during the construction process. Here are some of the most commonly encountered residents of the reef:

HK1, also known as Lulu, was the first hawksbill turtle to be entered in our database way back in 2011. She is one of our most frequently sighted turtles, having been photographed a total of 28 times, first in September 2010 and most recently in March 2014. She is a sub-adult female with a 50-60cm shell, is quite friendly and doesn’t seem too bothered by snorkellers. She is normally found swimming along the reef looking for her favourite foods: sponges, soft corals and anemones.

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK1 Lulu 2010

Finolhas reef : HK1 Lulu (2010)

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK1 Lulu 2011

Lulu the sub-adult female Hawksbill turtle (2011)

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK1 Lulu in 2012

Lulu photographed in 2012

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK1 Lulu 2014

Lulu again in 2014


HK32, Snowflake has been photographed 13 times between October 2011 and February 2014. She is a juvenile hawksbill turtle around 40cm in length and is named after the uniquely shaped, three-lobed scale on the upper right side of her face. Snowflake is often seen sitting on the reef top or sometimes hiding under ledges. She is very friendly, often seems to pose for photographs, and will swim along under snorkellers for extended periods of time.

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK32 Snowflake

Finolhas reef – juvenile female Hawksbill turtle HK32 Snowflake

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK32 Snowflake face closeup

Hawksbill turtle – Snowflake closeup


HK56, also known as Big Boy, is 80cm in length and one of only a few mature males photographed in Baa atoll. Mature males can be distinguished from females by their very long tails. Big Boy is normally seen cruising along the side of the reef in deeper water or hiding in a cave but is not often sighted on the shallow reef top. Big Boy was photographed a total of 13 times since September 2011, but was last seen in October 2012.

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK56 Big Boy

Finolhas reef – large male Hawksbill turtle HK56 Big Boy

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK56 Big Boy

Big Boy has not been seen since 2012


We think Big Boy may have moved to a different reef, perhaps due to the construction disturbance or maybe due to a territory dispute with another male. Interestingly, Oscar (HK105) was first sighted in April 2012 and is still photographed regularly today – maybe the reef is not large enough to support two adult male Hawksbills.

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK105 Oscar

Finolhas reef – adult male Hawksbill turtle HK105 Oscar

Finolhas reef - Hawksbill turtle HK105 Oscar

Oscar may have taken over from Big Boy


The island of Finolhas – under development as a new resort

 

Meet The Turtle Inhabitants of Voavah Reef

Voavah Reef is situated 5km north west of Landaa Giraavaru. It is used as a picnic island for Four Seasons resort and is regularly visited for our Guided Adventure Snorkel and Turtle Safari trips. Voavah reef is one of the healthiest and most beautiful reefs in the atoll, showing very little damage to the corals. The reef structure is different to the other “wall” reefs we visit. Voavah reef is located inside a shallow bay with a depth of around 5m inside the bay and 10-12m on the outer reef. Coral pinnacles rise up from a sandy bottom inside the bay and make perfect places for Hawksbill turtles to graze on sponges and soft corals

We have identified 14 Hawksbill turtles from this reef, and discovered that 12 of these turtles have been seen multiple times now, so we consider them to be residents of Voavah reef.

HK58, also known as ‘Coralline’ due to the presence of many patches of coralline algae on her shell, has been photographed 9 times since September 2012. She is a sub-adult female turtle measuring around 50cm carapace length. Coralline is quite friendly and easily approached. She often surfaces for a breath of air just next to the snorkelling group. Sea turtles normally hold their breath for between 15 and 30 minutes when foraging, but can hold their breath for several hours when they sleep.

Voavah reef - HK58 Coralline

Sub-adult female Hawksbill turtle – HK58 Coralline

Voavah reef - HK58 Coralline

Coralline is named after the patches of algae on her shell


HK81 has been named ‘Warpy’, and is a small juvenile Hawksbill turtle that has been photographed 8 times since February 2012. Warpy gets its name from a shell deformity on the front left and back right sides. We think that Warpy may have become entangled in either fishing line or marine debris when she was young, which wrapped around her and caused a deformity to her shell as she grew. Eventually the debris would have broken down and fallen off. At 35cm carapace length she is one of the smallest turtles on Voavah reef and is probably less than 10 years old.

Marine debris presents a huge danger for many residents of the ocean. Ingestion of plastic or other substances can cause blockages or starvation; entanglement can lead to drowning or amputation of limbs. Warpy is lucky to have escaped with only a small deformity to her shell.

Voavah reef - HK81 Warpy

Voavah reef : small juvenile Hawksbill turtle – HK81 Warpy

Voavah reef - HK81 Warpy

Warpy is named after the deformity seen in her shell


HK93, also known as ‘Luna‘, has been photographed 15 times since September 2012. At 60cm carapace length, she is considered to be a mature female. Hawksbill turtles normally become mature around this size, which means that Luna must be around 30 years old! This may explain her disappearance from the reef between April and August of 2013 – perhaps she went to lay her eggs on her nesting beach?

Did you know that female turtles find their way back to the same beach on which they were born, several decades ago? Luna would have used the magnetic field of the earth to guide her to the beach on which she laid her eggs. Luna’s babies will have faced huge predation risks upon hatching – running the gauntlet down the beach to make their way to the relative safety of the open ocean, where they would spend the next few years.

Voavah reef : mature female Hawksbill turtle - HK93 Luna

Voavah reef : mature female Hawksbill turtle – HK93 Luna

Voavah reef - HK93 Luna

Luna has been photographed on 15 different occasions


The uninhabited island of Voavah

 

[W]e are always on the lookout to increase our network of contacts in all atolls across the Maldives, especially in the more Northern atolls, as well as Lhaviyani, Addu, and S.Malé. If you would like to participate in our turtle conservation projects, or know of anyone that might be interested, please Contact Us and help to spread the word to other marine biologists and local environmental groups. Thank you !

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