Along with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles are of the most wanted encounters in the Maldives. Everyone wants encounter a graceful moving sea turtle, see their hatchlings coming up from the sand or even touch the sea for the very first time.
So, get ready for some advice and facts about these wise reptiles!
Globally, there are 7 species of sea turtles in the world: Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Kemp Ridley and Flatback. In the Maldives it is possible to encounter at least 5 of these species (first 5 listed before).
One of the most common species of sea turtle you can spot on our coral reef is the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelis imbricata), a smaller species of (up to 1 meter) and also the magnificent Green turtle (Chelonia mydas). The former Hawksbill turtle are considered as one of the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world and also listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature), meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the next few years.
Green Turtles, so called due to the green colour of the fat under its shell are currently listed as Threatened, not far behind the former species, they may also soon be in danger of extinction. Green turtles feed mostly on sea grass and algae, and they are the only sea turtle that is strictly herbivorous as an adult. You can easily see them tearing vegetation between different patches of corals or swimming around seagrass meadow in the shallow lagoon.
Since 2015, Thudufushi hosted 3 sea turtle’s nests. Building a nest is long and hard work: the female can spend anything between 4 to 6 hours to find a suitable area of sand, where she then digs a circular hole 40 to 50 cm in depth and lays on average 150 tiny ping-pong sized eggs. She then camouflages the nest with sand using her rear flippers and returns her journey back to the ocean, leaving the eggs untended. After around 60 days, hatchlings break out of their eggs and out of the sandpit. This usually happens during the night to order to avoid predators where they use the moonlight and calibrate their internal magnetic compass to reach the sea. Once in the water, turtles swim between foraging areas and migratory routes until they reach maturity. Much of this time is know as the “lost years”, since there is little information about turtles during this period. Due to the low survival rate, it is estimated that only 1% of hatched sea turtles will survive to reproductive maturity.
Sadly these species of turtles are prized for their beautiful shells (carapace) their scutes, streaked with amber, black and brown nuances, are still used to make hair ornaments, jewellery and other decorative items in some countries. Meat and eggs are used for human consumption. Many countries believe the eggs have aphrodisiac qualities, but there is no scientific evidence to support this.
Other indirect threats for sea turtles include bycatch and ghost nets; this is commercial fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea, but, in the water, they can trap almost anything that swims around. Along with these, marine debris is of the most significant problems in our oceans, not only to turtles, but also all marine life worldwide, because of ingestion and entanglement. More than 80% of this plastic is derived from land. It washes out from landfills, beaches and the streets. It travels by winds and storm drains that lead into rivers, streams and our oceans. As a result, thousands of turtles accidentally swallow these plastics, mistaking them for their food. This plastic can fill the stomach of the turtle, thus making less space for nutritious food and as a result cause the turtle to starve. Plastic and other marine debris can also block the movement of food within the gastrointestinal tract which can have severe health implications. An ingested plastic bag can also cause a turtle to dive incorrectly. Basic movements such as swimming and diving will require lot more energy which could be invested in finding its food.
With so many things threatening sea turtles, we need to help them with their survival!
You must remember that we share our oceans and beaches with many other species and many have been there before we started to harm their habitats. Respect the environment and think how every one of our actions can have a possible effect on other organisms, is a must!
You can help by doing regular clean-ups, use less plastic in your household, avoid using straws and contribute to conservation projects who aim to conserve the protection of sea turtles.
You will be surprise about how many things we can do all together.
For further information:
About rescue and research on sea turtles in the Maldives
On marine debris and sea turtles interaction:
About sea turtles and plastic straws: