Hello everyone! I am Janice from Singapore, and I’m Seamarc’s marine biology intern at Four Seasons Resort, Kuda Huraa. I am currently in the final year of my ‘Veterinary Technology’ course and have chosen ‘Aquaculture’ as my elective cluster.
During my first week at Kuda Huraa’s Marine Discovery Centre (MDC), I took the opportunity to work on each of the conservation programmes in rotation. Jamie (Turtle Biologist) introduced me to turtle feeding and care of the hatchlings, and I accompanied Kimberly (Marine Biologist) on the daily snorkel excursions. Stephen (Coral Expert) was also there to teach me about coral biology and the ongoing Reefscapers coral propagation work. I must admit that initially the work was quite a challenge, as I needed to absorb all the specialised marine biology terminology and practical techniques … but I’m glad I persevered!
I learnt how to give the four different presentations on marine life at the MDC (fish, turtle, shark snorkel, dolphin cruise). The Seamarc team were excellent teachers (thank you!) and everyone was very patient, going through all the information and PowerPoint slides with me, so I learnt very quickly.
By the second week, I found myself increasingly drawn towards the turtle patients, so worked closely alongside Jamie to help with the specialised turtle diets and medical treatments, as well as chores like pool cleaning. I’ve learnt each turtle’s likes and dislikes when it comes to meal times and have also mastered the art of hiding tablets of medication! It requires a lot of patience when there are turtles like AaaVee, who is really picky when it comes to food. AaaVee is an Olive Ridley that lost his right front flipper following entanglement in a ‘ghost net’ (drifting discarded fishing net). Because of his missing flipper, AaaVee is not capable of diving under water so must be hand-fed every meal. This lobster-lover is a master at detecting hidden medicine in his food and often spits out the tablets, especially ‘Gas X’ which is given to rid the body of trapped gas (contributing to the problem of sea turtle ‘floating syndrome’).
‘Floating syndrome’ is also known as ‘Buoyancy Disorder’ and this means the turtles are unable to submerge under water to hide or look for food. This usually happens when the turtles become victims of trauma due to boat collision or entanglement with abandoned fishing gear (‘ghost nets’ that drift on ocean currents). We’ve been working hand in hand (or hand-in-flipper!) with AaaVee during meal times, when we push him down underwater to catch the sinking morsels of food.
Kainalu (aka the ‘Bulldozer’) swallows anything including tuna meat with bones and skin, which the other turtles would never touch. Kainalu is a hawksbill turtle, usually resident close by in the Channel area at the sunrise side of Kuda Huraa. She currently has a carapace length of about 60cm and weighs over 30kg. After 60 days of medical treatment at our Centre, her broken carapace healed well and she made a quick recovery back to health. So on Xmas Eve we were pleased to release her back into the ocean … YAY! Kainalu was then spotted a few days later in the Channel area, happily munching on sponges!
We monitor the weight and size of the turtles every Tuesday, to keep track of their growth and to make sure their wounds are clean and healthy. It is important to ensure a healthy growth rate, especially for the hatchlings under the ‘Head Start Programme’ since they are often the runts in the litter. Observing their growth every week will allow us to make amendments to their diet so they receive enough of the correct foods. It is mentally and physically challenging work, but very satisfying to observe the turtles grow bigger and stronger and get closer to the day they are released back into the ocean.
Olive Ridley turtles are not often seen in the Maldives as they don’t live or nest here, preferring the open ocean. Despite this, the start of the year has been nicknamed “Olive Ridley Season”, not because the turtles are aggregating near nesting beaches, but because of the numbers of Olive Ridley turtles to be found entangled in ghost nets. With the change in monsoonal wind directions, discarded fishing nets from countries like Sri Lanka and India are being swept along in oceanic currents. Turtles can be attracted to marine debris and drifting ghost nets whilst looking for food, but can then become entangled in the netting. This is made worse by the struggle to break free, as the net filaments can tighten and restrict the flippers, causing permanent tissue damage or flipper loss within several days of entanglement.
Captain Ibrahima (Olive Ridley turtle juvenile) was found entangled in a fishing net at Soneva Jani resort, and is suspected to have been floating on the ocean surface for quite a while. He arrived at our Centre in a dehydrated and underweight condition. Thankfully, he had escaped fatal injuries and managed to keep all his flippers intact. On his first day of admission, we had to give him a good scrub to clean off the algae, and administer reptile ringer to replenish his bodily fluids lost whilst trapped and unable to feed. The good news is that Captain’s condition has improved and he can now be seen resting at the bottom of the pool. Once he regains weight, he should be ready for release back into the ocean.
Pumpkin, another Olive Ridley turtle juvenile, was admitted in October with severe tissue damage to three flippers. After several weeks of intensive care and treatments at our Centre, she made full recovery and was successfully released back into the ocean. Off she swam, heading out of the atoll all and ready for her new adventures. Wherever she may be, let’s wish her all the best!
And to end on another happy note, just a few days before the end of my internship, 24 Hawksbill turtle hatchlings were welcomed into the world! The nest here at Kuda Huraa had been found in November immediately outside a guest room, and after 68 days of incubation the baby turtles were spotted emerging from the sand. I woke up early the next morning to join the team in releasing these precious new born babies. We headed to the outside of the atoll, to safely release the hatchlings away from many of the dangers they would have faced in the shallow lagoon.
I will always be eternally grateful for this opportunity to work alongside Jamie, Stephen, Gerardo and the two Sophies. A very sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart for everyone’s encouragement, hard work and dedication. My short time here has allowed me to learn so many things that otherwise might not have been possible. If given the chance, I would love to stay and absorb all your teachings like a sponge, however, it is time I say goodbye to continue my Veterinary Technology studies (hmmm … I am tempted to change courses!)
The memories I have forged here will always have a special place in my heart ♡ … what a wonderful country!