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'Noonu' the turtle's journey to recovery, and Reefscapers' role behind it

Mohamed Rehan
20 October 2023, MVT 11:32
Noonu, the turtle rescued by fishermen and cared for by the Marine Discovery Centre -- Photo: Reefscapers
Mohamed Rehan
20 October 2023, MVT 11:32

The sea turtle rescued by Ozen Life Resort and taken to the Marine Discovery Centre in Four Seasons Resorts Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru was in a poor condition when she was found tangled in a fishing net. She was first taken to the rehabilitation centre in Four Seasons Resorts Maldives at Kuda Huraa, but the team was worried about her rear flipper which was badly damaged and may require amputation.

The fishing nets in which Noonu was stuck-- Photo: Reefscapers

As the rehabilitation centre at Kuda Huraa did not have a vet to do an involved operation, It was transferred to Landaa Giraavaru where, with a lot of care and attention, the turtle team were able to save the turtle’s flipper which has now healed well.

The turtle, called Noonu, was given a full health assessment when she arrived at the centre. Due to the nature and severity of her wounds, she was put on a course of antibiotics. The team also cleaned her wounds using a process calling debriding which removes unhealthy or dead tissues and “encourages the healing process.” The team ensured the turtle’s wounds were debrided regularly until they healed.

While providing insight into the case of Noonu, Dr. Katrina Himpson, the veterinarian at the Marine Discovery Centre at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru said that the standard procedure of assessing injuries of rescued turtles with injuries involves a thorough inquiry to understand the turtles’ state, and that the team often requests pictures and videos be sent to the Marine Discovery Centre when an injured turtle is found.

Once videos or pictures of injured turtles are shared with the centre, the turtle team then make an initial assessment to decide the extent of care the turtle requires. If admission into a rehabilitation centre is required, the centre arranges transport to the nearest center. Once the turtle arrives at the center, the turtle team performs a full health assessment before devising an appropriate treatment plan.

Dr. Himpson said the treatments may include medications, wound care and even physiotherapy, but added that it varies in every case. Once the treatment begins, the turtles will be cared for until they recover well enough to be released back to the ocean or their natural habitat.

Damages to Noonu's fin from ghost nets; since her treatment, the turtle has shown recovery from her injuries-- Photo: Reefscapers

It was learned earlier that the Marine Discovery Centre at Landaa Giraavaru will be equipping a state-of-the-art tracking device to chart the course of Noonu once she is released back to the open ocean. Explaining the details of the tracking device, Dr. Himpson said that it works similar to GPS in smartphones.

She added that the tracking tag is the size of a small orange and will be stuck to the turtle’s back, which will not hurt her nor affect her swimming ability. The tag will send a GPS signal to satellites “orbiting overhead” when Noonu comes up to the surface of the ocean to breathe.

The tag sends information about Noonu’s current location along with how deep and for how long the turtle has been diving as well as the temperature of the water she is swimming in. The information will be valuable for the turtle team to build up a picture of what happens to recovered turtles after they are released.

Reefscapers; the Marine Discovery Center and their role

This is the tale of just one such rescued turtle’s journey to recovery, as well as the instrumental role the Marine Discovery Centre played in Noonu’s journey back to her natural habitat. The centre already has an impressive history helping over 460 such turtles, and actively works with the community to foster love for nature.

As such, the team at the Marine Discovery Centre recently visited all the schools of Baa atoll to raise awareness of the center’s turtle program and encourage the students’ involvement in Noonu’s release back to her natural habitat.

The centre earlier announced the launch of a competition for the schools in Baa atoll to guess where Noonu will swim after her release. They also ran a residential marine biology program for grade 9 students in Baa atoll earlier in 2023. The program was the first of an annual event aiming to encourage young people to be aware of the environment and consider careers in marine biology.

Additionally, the Maldivian Manta Conservation Project (MMCP) based at Landaa Giraavaru runs an ocean school; regularly visiting a single school in Baa over a period of six months. The centre also hosts school visits regularly and takes coral projects to local islands including Velidhoo and Kinolhas to assist them in starting their own coral conservation programs.

According to Dr. Himpson, most of the centre’s rehabilitation work is focused on turtles though the centre tries to provide help to any injured animals that are discovered. The centere frequently receives birds as patients including terns, noddies, and heron. In 2022, the centre looked after two orphaned bats until they were ready to return to the wild. The centre had also tried to nurse an injured false killer whale back to health some years back.

The productive work of the Marine Discovery Centre is a result of a partnership between Four Seasons Resorts Maldives and Reefscapers, a Maldivian marine consultancy founded in the late 90s. Shortly after the mass coral bleaching event in the 1998, the two organisations began working in partnership to help the resort restore damaged corals and raise awareness on environmental issues for guests and local communities.

Although the alliance between Four Seasons Resorts Maldives and Reefscapers began as a coral restoration program, over time it has expanded to include turtle rehabilitation, sustainable aquaculture, and megafauna monitoring programs.

Dr. Himpson assured that Reefscapers will continue with their education program next year with the residential marine biology courses for school students in Baa atoll while continuing to develop and improve its existing initiatives.

With Reefscapers set to continue with its marine conservation efforts in the following year as well, the conservationists rely heavily on local support for its turtle rehabilitation program especially since without local support they will not receive real-time information about injured turtles.

Dr. Himpson also noted that the interest and passion shown by the local communities have been the key to all the successful projects Reefscapers carried out on local islands.

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