World Wildlife Day - Volunteering with the Olive Ridley Project.
Introducing Amy, one of our Vets4u vets. She told us about her experience volunteering at a wildlife clinic last year.
I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks volunteering with the Olive Ridley Project (ORP) at their turtle rehabilitation centre in the Maldives. The project has a dedicated veterinary facility based at the Coco Palm resort in Baa Atoll.
Who are ORP?
ORP was established in 2013 and their ethos is grounded in rescue and rehabilitation, outreach and education, and scientific research. It is a UK-based charity that has expanded to help turtles all over the world. The clinic at Coco Palm was set up six years ago and became the first dedicated turtle veterinary hospital in the Maldives. The main aim of the project is to release the turtles back into the wild, and there have been many success stories. The clinic has helped over 164 turtles since opening, just in their Maldives clinic. ORP have bases in Kenya, Oman, Pakistan, and most recently, Seychelles. The clinic is run by a resident vet and vet nurse, helped by interns and volunteers throughout the year.
Why do we need to help the turtles?
There are seven different Sea turtle species Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Green, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Kemps Ridley and Flatback. 6 out of the 7 species are listed on the IUCN red list of threatened species and there is not enough data for the Flatback. Sea turtles are facing many threats, some are natural but many are human-related.
The most common species seen in the rehabilitation centre in the Maldives are Olive ridleys, Green turtles and Hawksbills. Most of the patients that come through the clinic have sustained injuries from ghost nets. Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned, lost or discarded. They can be found at sea, on beaches, or on harbours, and due to currents, these nets can be swept 1000s of miles around the ocean, entangling wildlife as they go. Other commonly tangled species include sharks, bony fish, dolphins, and whales. Animals can be caught in the nets for weeks, months and sometimes years. Olive ridley turtles are not native to the Maldives but they are commonly tangled in the nets and swept into the area, and they have even been found after ingesting fishhooks and lines.
A day in the life
The daily routine in the clinic included feeding, cleaning tanks, daily medications, wound treatment, cleaning shells, and dealing with any emergencies that arrived.
The clinic houses an x-ray machine which is important for assessing the lungs in sick turtle patients. Bloods are also taken to check for signs of infection, anaemia and dehydration.
The most common injuries are lacerations to flippers and shell damage. In some cases, the damaged flipper may need to be amputated - these turtles adapt and survive as well as their four flippered friends. Some turtles also develop buoyancy issues and lose the ability to dive. This is due to the stress of being tangled and sometimes they suffer from lung tears. Being buoyant and unable to dive means that the turtle sits in the water with the shell out of the water - this puts them at risk of drying out. Turtle rehabilitation can take many months depending on the severity of the injury. It can take 3-6 months for lung tears to heal and turtles to be able to dive again. For animals that no longer require intensive veterinary treatment but need further rehabilitation, there is the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in North Male Atoll which was opened in 2019.
How can you help?
There are several ways you can help turtles through the Olive Ridley Project. The charity offers opportunities to adopt a turtle, donate to their cause and track their sea turtles. By learning about the work of ORP, you can become mindful of the issues facing marine life and be a kind traveler. This includes keeping your distance from turtles if you come across a flippered friend while swimming in the ocean. As we have learned, discarded plastic causes huge environmental and health risks to ocean life. By reducing our plastic consumption and making sustainable choices in our everyday lives, we can start to make an impact.
Happy World Wildlife Day from the team at Vets4u!