A milla Maldives Resort and Residences has joined forces with the turtle conservation organisation, the Olive Ridley Project, to monitor and conserve all local turtle species. According to the resort’s latest research, nine turtles visit Amilla Resort to feed regularly, and three individuals nest on the island.
Wildlife at the Resort
Green turtles are the most-common species found in the Maldives, however, the nests of both green turtles and less-common hawksbill turtles nests have been identified at Amilla Maldives Resort. This isn’t too much of a surprise to marine biologists though, as the unusually large island is less than 30% developed – the vast majority is lush jungle and pristine beaches. As such, rare white-tailed tropicbirds with exotic white plumes also nest at Amilla, despite normally only nesting on uninhabited islands.
Marine Excursions and Sightings
Guests diving or snorkelling on the extensive house reef frequently report seeing large turtles grazing or slowly swimming by – sometimes they even swim up to take a closer look at guests. The house reef is directly accessible, just metres from the shore, but the on-site diving centre, Dive Butler International, also operates diving excursions around the house reef and across the atoll.
Marine Biologists at Work
Amilla’s new marine biologist, Zoe Cox, has been working alongside the Olive Ridley Project (ORP) ever since it began operating in the Maldives in 2017. She also helped recruit Amilla’s new sea turtle biologist, Afrah Sathaar, who recently completed an internship programme with ORP. “He is new in this marine conservation sector, but he’s already very knowledgeable and driven,” says Zoe. Her Maldivian colleague learned skills in turtle research and rehabilitation during his internship. Afrah’s role at Amilla focuses on collecting ‘turtle IDs’, managing a database of turtles in Baa Atoll, and nesting management, as well as collecting data on nesting and ghost gear (abandoned fishing nets), plus staff training for managing nests and turtle rescues.
Unique Turtle ID System
The pair have been busy submitting ‘turtle IDs’ and nesting data from Amilla to the Olive Ridley Project. They create ‘turtle IDs’ by taking a picture of each side of a turtle’s face whenever they spot them. The pattern on the side of a turtle’s face is unique to each individual. “It’s a great way to monitor populations, migrations, movement and turtle hotspots without physically tagging the turtles and harming them,” explains Zoe. “It’s not even necessary to be a marine biologist to use this simple ‘turtle ID’ method, you just need a camera.”
The Importance of Turtles in the Ecosystem
Although the pristine waters around Amilla Resort, the Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, is a popular spot for turtles to feed, play and nest, the Olive Ridley Project did not have a marine biologist based there, which is why Amilla Resort decided to fill the gap by partnering with them. Now the five-star resort can support their research and help raise awareness of their cause among its guests.
They are also attempting to raise awareness of turtle poaching in the area, and to educate people on why this is harmful to the environment as well as the economy. Turtles are important environmentally and economically for many reasons, but the myriad of benefits vary by species. “Some species of turtle, such as green turtles, graze on seagrass, which is vital for removing carbon from the atmosphere” explains Zoe. Grazed seagrass has higher metabolic carbon capture than ungrazed areas.
“Some species eat sponge and algae growing on the coral reef, which prevents them from out-competing the coral,” she continues. “And some turtles eat jellyfish, which helps keep their population in check. Their nesting also provides nutrients to the beaches in the form of eggshells and undeveloped eggs,” she adds.
Research and Conservation Initiatives
Afrah is now developing the Olive Ridley Project’s research goals in areas such as accurately measuring individuals to determine their age, so they can try to figure out why we only see Hawksbill Turtles of a certain size in Baa Atoll. He also ran a successful turtle festival in Addu Atoll, his home atoll, earlier this year. South of the equator, this area is often overlooked by marine conservationists due to its remote location.
The Maldives – A Magnet for Marine Enthusiasts
Diving and snorkelling are some of the most popular activities in the Maldives, according to tourist board data. Visitors come to the Maldives to marvel at the marine creatures like turtles, and to admire the reefs that turtles help keep healthy. But healthy reefs also benefit local fishermen, too, because they provide a safe place for their future catches to grow and breed.
Celebrating World Turtle Day at Amilla
Earlier this year, Amilla Maldives celebrated World Turtle Day by offering guests the opportunity to sponsor Amillas turtles, or choose names for them. They also ran a special turtle excursion, with all proceeds donated to the Olive Ridley Project. Any of the resort’s younger guests can learn more about turtles and other aquatic creatures living in the area with Amilla’s Mini Marine Biologist programme.
This article was originally published in Scuba Diver ANZ #54.