Friday, September 30, 2016

Josie Saves Another Gili Turtle!

It's always exciting to see a turtle out on a snorkel trip, but last Thursday's snorkeling group got a little more than they bargained for when our ever vigilant boat crew spotted a sick hawksbill turtle as they were setting up the boat. Our guests were able to watch as Josie, assisted by the crew, recovered the sick turtle so that it could be sent to the local turtle hospital. 

Thanks to the training provided by Martin Stelfox from the Olive Ridley Project, our crew are able to identify sick or injured turtles, and know exactly what to do when they find one! We received the phone call from the boys on the boat whilst we were delivering our briefing and Josie raced down the jetty to help them out. 

There are a few tell-tale signs which help us to identify sick turtles, and unfortunately this was not a false alarm, as this little hawksbill was exhibiting quite a few - she was underweight, had algae growing not only on her shell, but also on her flippers, and she was moving in a very lethargic manner. Whilst our boat crew quickly put together the equipment that Josie might need, she dropped into the water to have a closer inspection. She made the decision to bring the turtle onto the jetty for a full examination before deciding to send it to Four Seasons Turtle Rehab Centre for further care. 

Algae on the shell is normal for this species,
but we can clearly see a large amount of epifauna on her flippers.

As she approached, the turtle made no attempt to swim away, so with the help of the crew, she brought it safely onto land. After a quick once over, the poorly turtle was placed in a small water tank and was transported almost immediately to the Four Seasons Resort at Kuda Huraa, 15 minutes away. Josie didn't leave the turtle's side until she handed it over to turtle expert Jamie Fisher, who informs us that the little turtle is still in a critical condition, but has shown slight improvement over the week. 

In Maldives, there is a lack of veterinary equipment, and the Turtle Rehab Centre relies mostly on donations from guests. Because there is no x ray machine or facilities to do blood work, we are no closer to understanding why this turtle is sick, but Jamie is doing everything in her power to help the turtle gain weight and become more active. You can visit the Marine Savers website to see more about their amazing work with turtles, and keep checking back here at for more updates as our little turtles story unfolds! We hope she makes a speedy recovery! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

An action packed visit from the Olive Ridley Project

Last week we warmly welcomed back Martin Stelfox to Gili Lankanfushi. Martin is the founder of the Olive Ridley Project and this was Martin's third visit to Gili. This particular visit included a whole range of activities for guests, staff and local children.

The Olive Ridley species of turtle is not usually found on
Maldivian reefs
The Olive Ridley Project is a UK based charity that was founded in 2013 by Martin in response to the large number of ghost nets that he was encountering during his time working in the Maldives. Ghost nets are lost, or discarded fishing nets that float around in ocean currents, entangling marine life such as sharks, rays and in particular turtles. The Olive Ridley Project named themselves after the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) which is the turtle species most vulnerable to entanglement, possibly because of their oceanic distribution and their curious nature. The Olive Ridley Project's aim is to protect the Indian Ocean from these ghost nets through research, removal and awareness.

Martin's visit to Gili was as part of a longer trip to Maldives during which he spent time visiting several different resorts. We planned three days of activities for his ti
me with us and kept him busy for three days straight!

Gili gardeners, boat crew and Mr Fridays take part in 
the first training session by Martin Stelfox
Day one's first activity, a turtle focused guided snorkel for guests, was unfortunately cancelled because of the bad weather, but it did not stop our indoor activities from being a success. The afternoon started with a training session for Gili's staff on the subject of turtles and ghost nets and how they could deal with a turtle if they ever come across one entangled. One big part of the Olive Ridley Project's work is research and so participants of the training were asked to help contribute to the collection of data by submitting information about the turtles they are finding (location, size, species) as well as the net itself...or if in doubt to get in contact with myself and Debs and we would do the rest! Collecting this sort of information is really important because if we can begin to recognise where the nets are coming from and why they are ending up in the ocean, then the Olive Ridley Project team can begin to work with these fisheries in order to help prevent the nets from entering the oceans in the first place.

Guests eagerly listen to Martin as he explains about ghost nets and 
why he set up the charity
The last commitment of the day was that evening with a presentation by Martin to a group of guests in our Over Water Bar accompanied by our specially made 'Ocean Wanderer' blue cocktail. The guests who braved the windy weather to come and listen loved hearing about the project, especially a young turtle enthusiast called Pete who had some really good questions for Martin!

Day two was even more action packed and started early with an 8 o'clock visit to the neighbouring local island Himmafushi. We were there to talk to Himmafushi School's students and had a great turn out of 50 students and 8 members of staff. The talk covered the topic of ghost nets but also discussed current threats turtles are facing such as being kept as pets and being taken for their meat and eggs. Only in April this year did it become illegal to harvest sea turtle eggs in the whole of Maldives, so eating turtle eggs was not taboo until fairly recently. The session was concluded with a competition announcement by Martin which invited all students to get creative and draw/make/design something on the topic of turtles or marine debris with a two week deadline. The first prize was a family lunch at our resort!
Martin involves students from Himmafushi School in a 'Spot the turtle' game during our visit to the neighbouring local island

After returning to Gili we had another staff training session followed by a reef clean. In keeping with the subject of discarded nets and other marine debris, a group of 12, both guests and staff, scoured around our lagoon and One Palm Island reef looking for anything that could harm marine life. The day wasn't finished yet with another private presentation by Martin to some interested guests and then in the evening a screening of an award winning environmental movie 'Trashed' (2012), which left us with a thought provoking message about how we use plastics in our day to day lives. A crucial watch!
Gili staff carry out a reef clean at the beginning of every month as part of the initiative Dive Against Debris, this month we put on an additional reef clean for Martin's visit
Day three and Martin's final day with us at Gili. The morning began with a snorkel trip to our favourite spot, Bandos reef, where we accompanied guests and were able to spot a couple of small Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) as well as the normal abundance of other marine life.
On return to Gili and after lunch I sat down with Martin to be trained in the newest aspect of the Olive Ridley Project's work: DNA extraction of entangled turtles. With special permission from the Maldivian government, Martin is on a mission to identify where in the world the turtles that we find entangled are coming from. By taking a DNA sample it may be possible to work out the particular population of Olive Ridleys that the entangled animal is from. This sort of information, combined with information about the net type and also ocean current modelling will begin to paint a clearer picture about where and how ghost net entanglement is happening. One last presentation by Martin concluded the activities for his action packed visit! 

Martin left Gili after a busy few days, but it wasn't time to rest, he was on to the next resort! Again, his time with us was a big success and we'd like to thank him for coming! If you'd like to know more about the project you can visit the Olive Ridley Project website: 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Week 3 of my Marine Biology Internship!

Hi again - Dylan here!

My third week was just as action packed as the last two, with plenty of in-water activities to keep us busy! We focused on underwater surveys this week, which included a few SharkWatch and TurtleWatch dives, of course plenty of those amazing Manta dives, as well as continuing our coral bleaching surveys, and implementing a new project looking at Crown of Thorns Starfish behaviour. We used a range of different techniques as each survey is assessing totally different aspects of the reef and the creatures that inhabit it. Ecological monitoring is an important tool in science. It allows us to take a snapshot and quantify what is currently in a system, to monitor any changes over time, and to compare different sites. 

SharkWatch is a Citizen Science project where dive operators from around the Maldives submit their species sightings to the central Marine Research Centre based in Male. For me, it meant I got to go on several dives to help the dive guides collect the data. For the guides it can be difficult to look after a guest and simultaneously remember how many of which species they saw, especially when we can see up to 30 white tips and 20 black tips on one dive! So it was my job to go along to quantify their sightings! This data helps inform policy regarding the protection of shark species, as we track if the shark populations are increasing or decreasing following the shark fishing ban in 2010. So far it has been noted that all shark species sightings are on the increase in Maldives - great news for a healthy system! 
The Manta Point is full of white tip reef sharks. We counted 12 on one dive!
Left ID shot of a friendly Hawksbill
The right side of the same turtle
TurtleWatch is a similar project, but with an added aspect of photographic identification!
The scales on the faces of each turtle are unique like finger prints, allowing us to tell the difference between individual turtles on the reef. We managed to spot some golden oldies who were ID'd years ago, like Pippin at the Manta Point (She zooms around the cleaning station pretending to be a Manta..), but we also managed to capture some new faces, which was pretty cool - I'm keen to name one Dylan! T
he aim of this project is to determine the demographics of the sea turtle population in Maldives. We collect data on the species, sex, carapace (shell) length, any injuries, and also take photo ID's of the facial scutes. This project also helps inform policy. Turtles in Maldives have been protected since 2005 by a 10 year moratorium. In 2016, this policy needed renewing and our data from TurtleWatch was used to ensure a new poaching ban was imposed for the next 10 years. The project also includes data collection on turtle nests, which enforced a new ban to protect turtle eggs in the Maldives too!  
This juvenile Green turtle would sit in the same spot every day!
I learned to take any opportunity for data collection as the beautiful Green turtle photographed above was ID'd during an entirely separate survey dive: BleachWatch. BleachWatch is a project that was implemented in March 2016 to assess the mass bleaching of corals caused by the El Nino weather event on the reefs surrounding Gili Lankanfushi. We surveyed permanent monitoring sites at two different depths using belt transect methodology. In March this allowed us to gain a snapshot of the original health of our reef, and over time it has helped us gain information on how coral colonies reacted to the temperature increase, allowing us to map bleaching and mortality of different species at each depth.
One of my jobs was to lay the 100m transect - that's a lot of swimming!
Using similar methods, I was excited to be involved with implementing a new project on our house reef regarding the behaviour of the Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci). This species occurs naturally in Maldives however, recently we have been seeing outbreak populations which can decimate reefs by eating the corals. Debs tells me that they have removed over 2000 individuals from the surrounding reefs in about 8 months! These starfish can be quite cryptic- hiding in crevices in the reef- making it difficult to remove them. It was our aim to discover how the starfish act during different times of the day at different depths, thus allowing us to determine the most efficient time and depth to begin our next set of removal efforts! During one of our survey dives, a friendly eagle ray came to inspect our transect tape! It was amazing to witness this bizarre behaviour as she flew in from the blue, right towards me!!
I had to stop my survey for a second because of this amazing encounter!
So all in all, I had a busy week of diving; surveying coral health and taking photos of amazing mega fauna for ID purposes! With just a few days left on Lankanfushi, I'll be sure to miss island life! Stay tuned for my final post summarizing the highlights of my final week here!

Best fishes,

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Week 2 as the Marine biology intern.

Hi there! So after my action packed first week that included learning about  El Nino's effects, relocating slow growing coral, removing crown of thorns star fish and the arrival of the manta rays I didn't think things could get much better; how wrong I was! Since then I have been lucky enough to have more incredible manta encounters, rescue a female Hawksbill turtle, partake in our world oceans day activities and conduct growth surveys of the coral lines.

If you look closely there are 7 Mantas in this shot!
Debs and I accompanied some guests on a dive to Lankan Beyru with the intention of seeing some Mantas at the cleaning station, giving me the opportunity to hone my ID photography skills. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come on the dive! As soon as we descended onto the cleaning station there were a couple of Mantas making use of the station, a good start! Then came another group of 5 mantas, meaning there were approximately 7 mantas all around us on the station. They hung around for a while, allowing me to witness some interesting behavior as well as get some of those all important ID shots! Then as this group moved on, another group of 3 or 4 moved on to the station, and we managed to ID these individuals too! Once back at the desk we were able to sort the Manta photos, which revealed 11 individual Manta rays! 4 of these were on our database, the remaining 7 were ID'd by the manta trust. Interestingly the vast majority of the mantas we saw were females, with only 1 male manta being spotted. What an amazing experience!

Helping the turtle onto the pontoon.
One sunny afternoon a female Hawksbill turtle was spotted in our lagoon that was noted to be behaving unusually, and did not seem to be able to dive beneath the surface. We realised she was in trouble and jumped into the water to try and assist her. She still had some fight left in her and on our approach made an effort to dive away but unfortunately her condition was such that she was unable to move very far at all. She swam in my direction and I was able to take hold of her at the top and bottom of her carapace (shell). We lifted her out of the ocean onto the pontoon where we made the decision to take her to the Four Seasons turtle center immediately. Once she arrived she was giving a dextrose solution to bring her blood sugar levels back up and initially appeared to perk up, however after a day or so it became apparent that there was an underlying problem, and unfortunately she died. During her postmortem examination, several pieces of plastic were found in her digestive tract as well as growths on her liver. This explained her buoyancy issues as well as her low blood sugar levels. This turtles story was by no means unique and really highlighted to me the impacts that plastics have in our oceans.

Fragmenting a colony for a coral line.
World Oceans Day fell on the 8th of June which luckily coincided with my internship here on Gili Lankanfushi. In preparation for the day Josie and I retrieved two metal frames using a lift bag from the one palm island reef that were no longer needed due to the fact that the coral on them had died during the El Nino. These frames were then taken to our
World Oceans Day stall where guests were able to attach new healthy colonies to the frames using a range of species of coral that we had collected from Himmafushi the previous week. In addition to this we also made a pair of coral lines with the help of some eager guests. We chose to use the Stylophora pistillata species of coral due to its fast growing nature as well as the fact that its structure is well suited to the lines. All in all it was a great experience and I'm enjoying having the chance to share what little knowledge I have on corals and our oceans!

Me and Debs measuring coral.
Finally, in the last couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to go on a number of Coral Lines dives in which we have measured the growth rates of the coral colonies on the lines as well as cleaned algae from the lines them selves. In order to measure the colonies we use calipers aligning them with the widest points of the coral and taking down the reading. It was interesting to see just how large some of the colonies had grown as well as seeing how different species grow at different rates. It was also a good chance for me to practice my buoyancy whilst diving, a skill that could always do with working on!

Best fishes,