Friday, February 24, 2017

Majestic Mantas of North Male Atoll

Of course we were devastated as our incredible 2016 Manta season came to a close, with the last spectacular gathering on our cleaning station coming in on November 23rd, followed by the odd sighting through until December 20th.

However, best not to dwell, as the Mantas have already re-appeared on the Western side of our atoll! This is only a 35 minute boat ride away, and this time they're on a cleaning station that is only 2m deep: Rasfari! One of my favourite places to see Mantas in the Maldives, this station allows snorkelers of all abilities the amazing experience of swimming with a gentle giant!! 
Because this special area is so shallow, it is more important than ever for us to abide by the Manta interaction guidelines set forward by the Manta Trust. Guide "Divey" was more than happy to head out on today's training session (Right). If only all work-related training included Manta snorkeling... 

The Mantas are here because the seasonal winds have changed direction, pulling all their planktonic food to the West. This means we get to see the exact same individuals, but in a totally different setting. We couldn't be happier to see our favourite male Manta "Simple" over at Rasfari last week. Simple is one of the smaller males, last seen by us at the back of the pack of males courting big female "Pickle" in October. This time we saw him cruising over the shallow reef alone, getting a good scrub from those all important cleaner fish, whilst Pickle was seen feeding with 7 friends in Bodu Hithi Channel a few days later. With his missing tail, single clasper, and distinctive 3 spot pattern, Simple is easy to tell apart from his fellow Mantas. He also wins the prize for 'most photographed Manta belly' at Gili Lankanfushi due to his super friendly nature! 

If anyone is heading to Maldives in the next few months, make snorkeling with mantas your must-do activity, and check out the Manta Interaction Guidelines to maximise your experience! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rescued turtle released after 4 months of rehab!

Josie releases the turtle she rescued almost 
4 months ago! Credit: Stephen Taylor
You may remember our team's turtle rescue back in September, documented in our blog post "Josie saves another Gili turtle". 
Remember how worried we were, that the little turtle wouldn't make it through the night? Well, following 4 months of rehabilitation, we are delighted to report that she has made full recovery and has now been released!

Gili was weighed and measured
each week
The juvenile Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), named 'Gili' after where she was found, was in a critical condition, unresponsive to stimuli and extremely underweight. Our Gili Lankanfushi marine biology team sent her straight to the Four Seasons Rehabilitation Centre, where she has been cared for by an incredible team of marine biologists over the last 4 months. It was touch and go for the first month: She was not very energetic and putting on weight very slowly, despite being tube fed. But at the one month mark, we received a report that she was ready to move into a bigger tank. Typical of Gili to make us worry, once moved, she proceeded to lose all the weight she had slowly managed to put on and we were back to square one.. It took the biologists a week or so to get her used to the new environment and to encourage her to eat, and with a rich diet she was soon putting that weight right back on. She came into the centre weighing only 5826g, and left a hefty 2 kilos heavier! 
Sophie meticulously checks health
indicators before release

On the 6th of February, the day had come for Gili to leave the rescue centre and head back into the big blue! As Gili is a resident of Gili Lankanfushi's house reef, the team agreed that sending her back to us for release might help her settle back in, so that is exactly what we did. We joined the Four Seasons team to complete her final release assessment before whisking her back to Gili Lankanfushi for her big release! Almost 20 guests and hosts came to witness Gili re-enter her home and a round of applause went up as she swam away toward the reef. Check out our release video, put together by our Marketing team! 

Typical Gili- she got cramp in her back flippers during her release, which meant she treated our guests to a few back flips before swimming off properly.. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dry season brings some exciting sightings!

The monsoonal winds are starting to shift here at Gili Lankanfushi, with blustery days giving over to calm glass-like seas. Sadly this means the end of our epic Manta season is approaching, but on the plus side, the strong incoming currents of the Iruvai season bring with them some fantastic shark sightings!

Just last week we were lucky enough to spot two incredible Oceanic Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) (Above)! This secretive species is rarely seen in Maldives, however we hear whispers of areas where they're more common than other sites.. Note the much larger size, sharp snout, elongated upper caudal lobe, and diminished black dorsal tip, distinguishing it from its reef counterpart, Carcharhinus melanopterus (Right).

Whilst Dive Instructor Nazeef came back from a dive last week claiming another Great Hammerhead sighting, I had exciting news of my own, having snorkeled with the elusive Guitarfish!
We have been lucky to have daily Giant Guitarfish (Rhychobatus djiddensis) (left) sightings this week! These fish, technically in the ray family, use their ventrally located mouth to dig small organisms out of the sand. This bold individual can be seen cruising under our arrival jetty each day at about 5pm, where she didn't seem phased by my presence at all!

All in all, a pretty cool few days under water! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Researching entangled turtle populations with the Olive Ridley Project

Recently we have been teaming up with the folks over at the Olive Ridley Project to conduct several experiments in order to assist with Martin Stelfox (Founder and CEO)'s PhD thesis. With Martin's twice yearly visit looming, myself and Josie nipped over to see our friends at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre at the Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa to collect some DNA samples from their turtle patients.

As entanglement often leads to flipper amputation,
researching this issue to find solutions is vital.

As you may know, the Olive Ridley Project is working towards eradicating ghost fishing gear in the Indian Ocean, and part of Martin's thesis is to discover where these nets may be coming from in order to inform fisheries. One way of finding this out is to work backwards, by finding out where the turtles, which become entangled in these nets, came from. Each turtle has it's own DNA signature which gives us clues as to which population it has come from. We can then start to piece together where the net was present in order to capture a particular turtle. Genius! 
Chilled out juvenile 'Winslow'

As Four Seasons is the central hub where victims of entanglement are sent for rehabilitation, we headed there to collect our samples.

Having a tissue sample taken is a little bit like having your ear pierced, so thankfully the turtles only feel a little pinch. The skin on their flippers is extremely tough; designed not to be damaged whilst they forage on sharp coral reefs, but we are still mindful to be quick and clean. We did everything possible to reduce stress to the turtles, who were very well behaved, and our results could unlock some interesting answers, making these turtles ambassadors for the protection of their species!

Our thanks go out to the Marine Savers of Kuda Huraa for their hospitality and help with the project!

Martin visited Gili Lankanfushi for a few days last week, where he was able to collect his all important samples and take them back to the lab in the UK! 
Martin has trained over 40 hosts at Gili Lankanfushi!
Whilst here, he helped train a new batch of hosts in case they come across a ghost net or entangled turtle. He also held an interesting presentation for our guests, and set up a pilot study with the ultimate aim of aging ghost gear based on bio-accumulation and UV radiation! 
Martin demonstrates how turtles can become
entangled to an interested group of guests.

To support the important work of the Olive Ridley Project, you can join their #FreeTheFlipper campaign and donate by clicking this link: . The money raised will help develop a system in Pakistan where ghost gear will be collected and reused by the community to generate an alternative income: basically turning trash into treasure, and eliminating discarded nets in the ocean!