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"Turtle Boy": championing the protection of Gaadhoo's turtles

30 June 2023, MVT 12:25
Turtle Ranger Ibrahim Inaan, who is in charge of protecting the turtle conservation in Laamu atoll Gaadhoo, measures the circumference of a turtle -- Photo: ORP
30 June 2023, MVT 12:25

Ibrahim Inaan holds a unique and special bond with the turtles that frequent the shores of Laamu atoll Gaadhoo. As the first Sea Turtle Ranger and Community Officer of the non-profit organisation Olive Ridley Project, his primary focus is ensuring the safety and well-being of these creatures.

Inaan's dedicated role is centered around transforming Laamu atoll Gaadhoo into a turtle sanctuary. The island is known for its abundant population of turtles that come ashore, making it a captivating destination for turtle enthusiasts and researchers.

Inaan conducting a survey in Gaadhoo -- Photo: ORP

Inaan finds great fulfillment being close to the sea, where he can immerse himself in the captivating world of marine life. As a Turtle Ranger with six months of experience, he has gained valuable insights and knowledge about sea turtles. His primary responsibilities focus on two key aspects:

● Surveying the breeding areas of turtles in Gaadhoo: Inaan meticulously surveys the various sections of Gaadhoo to identify the specific locations where turtles come to breed. This vital information helps in understanding and protecting their nesting grounds.

● Raising awareness about turtles in island communities: Inaan actively engages with the residents of Fonadhoo and Gan, two neighbouring communities, to create awareness about the significance of turtles and the need for their conservation. Through his efforts, he strives to instil a sense of appreciation and responsibility for the turtles.

Originally hailing from Maabaidhoo in Laamu atoll, Inaan now resides in Laamu Gan. As part of his routine, he visits Gaadhoo every two days to perform his work. This year, Inaan has conducted 30 surveys and successfully identified 30 nesting sites where turtles have laid their eggs. Moreover, during his tenure, he has encountered three instances of turtle captures, although the numbers have decreased compared to the previous year, thanks to the enhanced daily monitoring efforts in Gaadhoo.

A turtle in Gaadhoo -- Photo: Hussain Nazim

Within Laamu Atoll, Inaan has earned the title of "Turtle Boy" among the islanders. This recognition reflects their trust and reliance on him as the go-to person for any updates or actions required to protect the turtles in the region.

The long history of turtles in Gaadhoo

During surveys conducted in the 1980s, it was estimated that approximately 240 turtles visited the shores of Gaadhoo on an annual basis. However, the local community holds a belief that this number is significantly higher, estimating it to be over 1400 turtles.

In 2015, the population of Gaadhoo was relocated to Fonadhoo, and since then, the management and administration of the island have been overseen by the atoll council and private associations. This transition ensured that Gaadhoo continued to receive attention and care, despite no longer being inhabited by residents. However, in 2021, a significant development took place as the island was handed over to Agro Net for agricultural purposes, specifically farming.

ORP team meets former island chief of Gaadhoo Ali Moosa: (L-R) ORP Maldives Project Manager Isha, Turtle Ranger Inaan, island chief Ali Moosa, former Gadhoo Council President Abdul Azeez and EPA Environmental Analyst Enaas -- Photo: ORP

In December 2021, a significant step was taken to protect the nesting beach and surrounding seagrass meadows of Gaadhoo. The Maldivian government declared these areas as Protected Areas, demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding critical habitats for sea turtles and promoting their conservation. This designation serves as a crucial measure to ensure the long-term preservation of these ecosystems and the species that rely on them.

During a survey conducted by the Olive Ridley Project (ORP) between 2018 and 2019, it was revealed that Gaadhoo hosted over 130 nesting turtles. The survey spanned from May 2018 to March 2019, during which 76 nesting sites were identified. From from April 2019 to February 2020, an additional 56 nesting sites were tracked. However, the survey findings also highlighted a concerning trend of poaching, with 61 percent of the nesting sites subject to such activities in 2018, which decreased to 51 percent in 2019.

Inaan -- Photo: ORP

In response to the instances of poaching, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborated with ORP to enhance monitoring efforts at the nesting sites. Both the local councils and Agro Net also extended their support to this initiative. A formal agreement was established, and Inaan, the dedicated Turtle Ranger, became the key focal point for the special program.

Senior Environmental Analyst of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Eenas Mohamed Riyaz, expressed his satisfaction with the progress achieved through the collaborative efforts. "Last year, approximately one-third of the nesting sites were subject to poaching. However, this year, out of 32 nesting sites surveyed, only one was found to have been poached." Eenas said.

The EPA is actively supporting the project and compiling a comprehensive Management Plan for Gaadhoo Island by gathering historical information and facilitating collaboration among organizations.

Inaan remains hopeful that his work in sea turtle conservation will make a positive impact. He has observed a growing local awareness about the significance of protecting turtles, and through active dissemination of information within the community, people's perspective on turtle conservation has shifted.

Inaan expressed that the locals, especially those from Gaadhoo, show great enthusiasm for the conservation project. With a well-defined management plan and sufficient funding, Inaan firmly believes that the project has the potential to achieve new heights and have a significant impact on sea turtle conservation.

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