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: www.oliveridleyproject.org. 

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