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Exhausted and homeless, likely 'runway' turtle dies from injuries

Mariyam Malsa
14 April 2019, MVT 09:21
A green sea turtle releases her eggs on the developing Maafaru Airport. PHOTO: TWITTER
Mariyam Malsa
14 April 2019, MVT 09:21

A green sea turtle likely to be the one that reached social-media fame on Tuesday as photos emerged depicting her laying eggs on the runway of Noonu Atoll's Maafaru airport, was found dead by Thursday.

According to experts, possible reasons for the marine creature's death are the combination of severe exhaustion and numerous injuries caused during the nesting incident, particularly as it is unknown how long the turtle attempted to dig a nest before "desperately" releasing her eggs on the tarmac.

Judging from matching barnacles on the face and body visible in both photographs, marine biology consultant Verene Wie explained to The Edition that while it is likely the injured turtle was the same one that laid her eggs on the runway, unfortunately, as the frontal photographs were not close-ups depicting the same profile, it is not possible to identify her with scientific accuracy.

Despite sources previously stating that the endangered creature was safely released into the ocean, more recent reports suggest that the already fatigued turtle was taken to the beach where it eventually died.

In several photographs circulating on social media, severe abrasions are seen on the turtle's carapace, suggesting it was overturned and dragged.

Turtle expert Jamie Fisher stated that female turtles could potentially die if eggs remained inside their bodies for extended periods of time and that there have been recorded instances of eggs being released into the water if the mother could not locate suitable nesting grounds.

Additionally, the expert stated that turtles do not necessarily return to the exact same spot they hatched to lay eggs, but rather have the ability to reach within 100 miles of the location.

Therefore she reasoned that this particular turtle, estimated to be 40-59 years old, could have hatched anywhere in the atoll or country, especially considering coastal sediment movements in Maldives.

The turtle expert stated that it was "unfortunate that even within this range, she could not find a suitable place to nest"

The controversial construction of the Maafaru Airport was contracted to Tuff Infrastructure Pvt Ltd of Singapore, in December 2017, under funding from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD).

So far, the 2.2-kilometre runway is the only aspect of the project that has been completed despite initial the deadline being set for August 2018. After several extensions, Tuff has assured that the project will be completed by May 31.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is currently investigating various claims against Tuff, including alleged deceit in winning the bidding process, unpaid payments to subcontractors, and generating suspicious profit despite pending construction.

Local NGO Save Maldives had voiced concerns that the Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) conducted for the airport development project at Maafaru, a popular nesting site for hundreds of turtles, was not made public or opened for comment.

Despite airport construction, Maafaru Island Council claimed that the frequency with which turtles visit the island for nesting purposes had not decreased.

The issue most recently came to light following the picture by Adam Nasym depicting a turtle depositing her eggs on a runway as the original nesting grounds she was returning to had been transformed into an airport. People from all across the globe expressed heartbreak, outrage and sadness over the turtle's unfortunate loss.

Hassan Ahmed (Beybe), conservationist and president of Save The Beach, attributed unfortunate occurrences such as turtles being forced to lay eggs on runways to coastal developments which destroy natural beaches.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes green sea turtles under its red list of endangered species. All species of turtles have been protected by law in Maldives since 1994.

Olive Ridley Project can be reached at +960 9552205 or vet@oliveridleyproject.org if a turtle in need of medical treatment or rescuing is found. Conservationists worldwide urge that in events where turtles are caught up in ghost nets, or even found wandering hopelessly as in the case of the nesting mother, to not flip or hold them by their flippers unless necessary to remove the tangles, never to drag turtles on the ground, and to call their vets for assistance.

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