Head Start Programme
On 28 February, several of our marine biologists headed to Fenfushi (Raa Atoll). We released a total of 446 Green sea turtle hatchlings (Chelonia mydas) into the sea, retaining sixteen for our Head Start Programme. The sixteen new hatchlings bring our total to twenty-one turtles from five different clutches.
All our juvenile turtles continue to grow and gain weight (with the exception of CM63 with a fluctuating weight). One of our Head Start turtles (CM80) has reached 27.5cm and will be ready for release in the next month or so.
Nest Protection Programme
Our aim is to protect sea turtle nests throughout the Maldives, obtain nesting information to determine hotspots, frequency and seasonality, and determine hatching success of intact nests.
These goals will be met by making local and resort contacts to provide the Marine Savers team with information about nesting and hatching information, with the potential for relocation. Nest and hatching documentation protocols will soon be made available online, and will be emailed to our contacts for reference.
Unfortunately, poaching of turtle nests is still active in the Maldives, regardless of the regulations that prohibit the collection and sale of turtle eggs. When necessary, we will provide a monetary incentive of 10 MVR per hatchling to decrease poaching of sea turtle eggs. Sea turtle eggs are typically sold for 2-5MVR each, however the majority of poaching occurs for personal consumption. To receive payment, hatchlings have to be accounted for and released, or we can provide transportation of hatchlings to appropriate release sites, thus allowing our marine biology team to verify the number of hatchlings.
Currently, we have contacts on Fenfushi, so when nesting or hatching occurs, our turtle biologist is contacted with the relevant date and time, location, number of hatchlings and number of unhatched eggs. We also request photographs of the unhatched eggs, to visually determine if they were unfertilised or the embryo died.
Since the beginning of December, 11 Green sea turtle nests have been laid, of which 4 have hatched and one has been relocated to Landaa.
As part of a pilot study to determine the viability of relocating sea turtle nests to a different island, we decided to relocate the 23 February nest from Fenfushi to Landaa. The nest was excavated on our 28 February visit, corresponding to 5 days of incubation. The eggs were carefully removed from the sand, and stored safely in large Styrofoam boxes (cleaned, and drilled with holes for airflow).
The egg boxes were taken by boat to our Centre at Landaa Giraavaru. Here, we dug an egg ‘chamber’ by hand, using pre-determined measurements based on nesting relocation protocols from similar projects. In total, there were 140 eggs in the relocated nest; one egg was broken upon excavation at Fenfushi and there were two ‘spacers’ (small, infertile eggs). The nest was marked with a wooden box to avoid disturbance, and to prevent the hatchlings from leaving the nest, allowing us to control the release from a safer location. The projected due date is 19-24 April.
Nest relocation is considered a last- resort management technique, and only to be attempted if the likelihood of the nest surviving to hatching point is very low. This is because the act of moving sea turtle eggs can cause the death of the embryo, and the choice of location for the new nest site could reduce the chances of the eggs hatching, or the subsequent survival rate of the hatchlings. Future relocations will be limited to nests that are submerged by daily tide, or in serious danger of being poached.
Relocating the nest to Landaa will increase the guests’ experience of the marine environment, and enable us to increase the awareness of the plight of local sea turtles. Guests will have the opportunity to watch the hatchlings emerge from the nest cavity, and evaluate any remaining contents. On the morning of emerging, hatchlings will be taken by boat to a pre-determined location for a safe release. A beach-release is not a viable option due to large predatory reef fish, sharks and possible boat traffic, all of which would seriously diminish the hatchlings’ chances of survival.