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Published on : Monday, November 25, 2013
In October 2012, three Green turtle nests hatched at One&Only Reethi Rah, on Turtle Beach of all places! Out of eight species of sea turtles, five are known to occur in the Maldives. The Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are the most common and nest frequently throughout the islands. They will spend their entire lives out at sea only returning to the land to nest. It is quite a remarkable act as they return back to the same beach where they were born decades before! Scientists believe that they use the Earth’s magnetic compass to navigate back but this is yet to be proven.
Green turtles nest at intervals of 2, 3 or more years. During a nesting season they will nest 3 to 5 times and lay on average about 100 -150 ping pong like eggs in each nest. The hatchlings hatch about 50-60 days after the eggs have been laid and usually emerge from the nest in groups at night. They will orientate themselves with the brightest light which is the reflection of the moon on the horizon and make a mad dash for the ocean. If they don’t make it to the ocean quickly many hatchlings will die from predators like birds and crabs, and then also sharks and big fish once they enter the water. The obstacles are so numerous for baby turtles that only one in a thousand survives to adulthood!
The last nest at Reethi Rah hatched at 3am! Altogether 151 green turtle hatchlings crawled out of the nest. As the moon was absent we used torches to light their way to the sea instead! One by one the hatchlings entered the water were they were all collected. They were released a few days later on the outside of the atoll, were hopefully they had a better chance of survival. Although the majority of them will probably perish, hopefully one or two will make it to adulthood and then return to Reethi Rah in the future to lay more nests.
Knowing that Reethi Rah is a nesting island for green turtles is excellent news. In the Maldives there is no ban for the collection of turtle eggs, which continues to happen throughout the islands. At Reethi Rah, the nests are protected which ultimately help towards the conservation of sea turtles, as well as creating important awareness about turtles and the threats facing them today. These ancient marine reptiles have been around for over 100 million years and we want to keep it that way for at least another 100!
Since February 2012 the resident Marine Biologist of One&Only Reethi Rah has been identifying the different turtles seen during the Turtle Adventure Snorkel at both Turtle Reef and West Point Reef. Every turtle has a unique scale pattern on each side of the head which it can be identified by. Photographed turtles are uploaded into a photo identification database to try to establish their population size, foraging sites and migration patterns. So far over 50 different Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been identified at Turtle Reef and over 20 at West Point Reef. Many of these turtles are common residents of the reef and can be seen regularly.
The Turtle Adventure Snorkel is a unique and beautiful experience and one that enables you to see up close for yourself these ancient marine reptiles. Since January 2012 turtles have been sighted 100% of the time on every trip! The majority are Hawksbill turtles who live on coral reefs and use their long beaks to probe into spaces between corals to find sponges and invertebrates to eat. The turtles will often be observed feeding on the reef top or reef slope. The friendly ones will swim along and may even swim up to the surface to breathe right in front of the person. The smaller juveniles and shy turtles may swim away if they have been disturbed.
Collecting such valuable information on local turtle populations will help towards implementing further marine turtle conservation measures in the Maldives. All the data is also passed onto turtle researchers who are working to preserve these globally threatened species.