Last Friday our Dive Centre crew noticed a dark object floating in the surge just off the beach, and as they looked closer they realised that it was actually a turtle. Despite its continual efforts, the turtle just couldn’t dive down as it was positively buoyant, and just kept floating. The team decided to bring the turtle back to the Dive Centre, and called in the Marine Biologist to inspect. We were in for a surprise – an Olive Ridley turtle – an uncommon sight here in Maldives, 35 cm in carapace length and serrated margins of the shell indicated that this individual was not yet sexually mature.
The turtle was overgrown with algae, and we suspected it had been drifting for a while, as the algae on the top of the carapace had already died off. The reason why the turtle was floating was likely to be due to a gastrointestinal problem. Considering the length of time it had been drifting, we suspect it may have ingested plastic in the form of a plastic bag which appears like a jellyfish, its normal food Moreover the animal was missing its right flipper, and showed scars on the left flipper- obviously as a result of entanglement in fishing nets. However, these scars were old, and the area where the limb was missing had nearly healed.
We scraped the algae off the turtle, and kept the animal in a dive centre equipment wash tank (cleaned and refilled with saltwater), while we contacted Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa, where they have appropriate facilities. The resort has a turtle programme and they kindly agreed to take care of the animal. They have informed us that the turtle is feeding very well, and we will keep you updated – check for the tag ‘Peggy’ – a name given to the turtle by Gail, our dive instructor who rescued it.
The Olive Ridley is the smallest ocean going turtle – reaching just up to 75 cm carapace length. It can be identified by an almost rounded heart-shaped shell, olive-green colour and by the shell morphology – particularly the lateral scute count (6-9 scutes in this species). Olive Ridley sea turtles reach maturity at around 15 years of age. Being omnivorous, they feed on a variety of different algae and animals, including jellyfish.
This unexpected visitor who had a missing limb, fishing net marks and probably a stomach full of plastic, is a sad reminder of the impact that we are having on our oceans. Environmental awareness is the key to fighting the marine debris problem. People still need to learn that when it comes to polluting our oceans – what goes around comes around.