Greetings everyone! My name is Hannah and I am from the Gold Coast, Australia. I am now one month into my internship with Marine Savers, and I cannot believe how much has already happened in such a short period of time … during my first week, I learnt so many new things that I thought my head might explode!

Working hands-on with marine turtles has been awesome. During my university degree (Bachelor of Science), I had the opportunity to work with turtle cells but never the actual animal … a welcome change. My daily jobs working in the Marine Discovery Centre (MDC) include tasks such as feeding the turtles and cleaning their pools. More daunting tasks include administering injections and fluids, as well as cleaning and caring for wounds. It is like nothing I’ve done before but I’ve happily embraced it.

Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation

So much time and effort goes into looking after the turtles, that when an individual is finally able to be released, everyone is overjoyed. So far in my short time, I have witnessed the release of five turtles: Dash, Valentino, BCD, Captain and Winslow. Dash is a green turtle that was part of the Rehabilitation Programme and was secretly my favourite. He was found as a hatchling by a marine biologist from another resort. He had never seen the ocean in his life and when he was released, it was like he paused for a moment in disbelief at where he was. Each release is unique because each turtle has a different personality and life history but they are all equally as thrilling to watch.

Sea Turtle Hatchling ‘Head Start’

Overnight on 8 March, hawksbill turtles hatched on Kuda Huraa beach behind one of the bungalows. From the nest, 11 hatchlings were collected. It was decided that four of them would be kept to include in our Headstart Programme where turtles are reared until 30cm in length. The remaining hatchlings were released at sunrise the next day into the open ocean to avoid reef-living predators. I was terrified on their behalf, seeing such small creatures taking off into the big blue!

Max, one of 6 turtles rescued from a single ghost fishing net.
Here, Irene and myself are treating Max’s lacerations at our rescue centre.

The four hatchlings we kept were the smallest of the clutch and included one born with deformities – aptly named Quasimodo. Quasi was born with only one eye, a very crooked overbite and strangely asymmetrical carapace scutes. Everyone has a soft spot for him, and we were worried when the other hatchlings began to eat but he still hadn’t tried to have a bite. I spent some extra time trying to feed him, being sure to hold the food in front of his single eye … and sure enough, he lunged and snapped it right up. That moment he finally ate was possibly one of the happiest for me so far, and he’s now the most active of the hatchlings and greedy for lobster! It’ll be very interesting to see how he looks as he grows.

As well as receiving new hatchlings, we also received an intake of injured juvenile to sub-adult turtles. Fishermen found six turtles tangled in a SINGLE ‘ghost net’ (discarded fishing gear) and brought them to us. Unfortunately, one died before they could reach us and some of the others were in very bad health. Between them, there were many serious lacerations and some flipper amputations. Two large turtles (Julie and Susy) were transported to Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu with Claire, the vet from the Olive Ridley Project, as they each required a front flipper amputation. We still have Bones, Max and Poppy to look after. Poppy was the luckiest, with just one laceration that is mostly healed now. Bones, named for his exposed bone in the place of an amputated flipper (that he since broke off), has improved leaps and bounds. Previously not eating and stuck floating, he now eats anything thrown his way and has even started to dive. Max is also showing great signs of improvement as he has started to eat and move around instead of moping in the corner as he used to.

Unfortunately, these turtles are not the only victims of fishing nets that we have received this month. Marine biologists from the nearby resort, One and Only, found a very big (36 kg!) Olive Ridley turtle stuck floating on the surface with a front flipper amputated. She was named Sweetie but turned out to be not so sweet. After being caught chasing down poor defenceless Greg (with no front flippers) and trying to bite him, Sweetie had to be segregated to her own pool. Though I do understand why she is so ‘angsty’, it must be frustrating not being able to dive despite trying every minute of every day.

Although getting to know the personalities of each individual turtle has been a major highlight of my internship thus far, there are many other animals that are equally thrilling to experience. I never expected to be so excited about the dolphin cruises. It seems an expectation that all marine biologists love dolphins … but I definitely do not! I respect their intelligence and charisma, but I also know too much about their disturbing behaviours to only see that side of them. Despite this, seeing the spinner dolphins put on acrobatic shows and playing in the bow of the boat does have an undeniable majesty. Seeing the calves try to jump and spin like the adults always makes me smile and laugh. During one of the cruises, we also found a pod of playful pilot whales, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t blink the entire time! I think I was more excited than any guest on the boat and it was an experience I will never forget. Since enjoying the dolphin cruises so much, my newest goal is to snorkel with them. So far, this has proven extremely difficult as it seems spinner dolphins do not appreciate snorkellers. Despite my best efforts throwing myself off boats near pods, I have so far only heard their whistles.

Pilot whale ‘bow-riding’ with our excursion ‘dhoni’ (boat).
Always an exhilarating experience !

Snorkelling is also a big part of the job, and the best snorkel trip I have experienced so far included visits from 15 reef sharks, multiple hawksbill turtles (one of which followed us), a pair of eagle rays, octopus and stingrays. The night snorkels are always good fun too. I’ve seen massive moray eels hunting, decorator crabs, colourful nudibranchs, cuttlefish, shoals of squid, a huge male green turtle, and Christmas tree worms. I’ve also had a shark nearly run into me because it was curious about our torches, and didn’t seem to realise there was a human (me) attached to it!

Early last year, an El Niño event caused sea temperatures to be well above the normal average and this bleached many of the coral reefs in the whole of the Maldives. As part of the coral propagation programme, I have been helping to make new coral frames and recycle old frames that didn’t survive. From the older frames that have died, it’s easy to see how effective the programme can be as the coral had grown incredibly large. These frames are left in place despite being dead as they still provide critical habitat for the wildlife and a potential substrate for new coral to attach and grow.

When collecting coral to use on the frames, partially dead or diseased colonies are taken in order to minimise the impact on the reefs, as such colonies will rarely survive over time. The type of coral being used (genus Pocillopora) has proven to be the most robust, as it is currently the dominant branching coral on the reefs. By using robust Pocillopora, the rate of frame survival in future climate events will hopefully be improved. I have become extremely interested in coral conservation and have chosen a related research project that I’ll carry out next month.

Overall, this month has been very eventful and fun. I have learnt so much and can’t wait to see what will follow next month. I am extremely grateful that I have been given this opportunity and that I get to work with awesome like-minded people. I am loving island life and my little island family.

Until next month
Hannah
 🙂

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