The Olive Ridley Project; Leaders of Sea Turtle Conservation in The Maldives

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PUBLISHED 18 November 2023

Founded in 2013 by Dr. Martin Stelfox, The Olive Ridley Project (ORP) is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting sea turtles and their habitats. Working alongside Dr. Martin are several other biologists and citizen scientists committed to take on a “multifaceted and holistic approach to protecting sea turtles and their habitats.”

The organization has successfully established operations in 5 different countries, namely; Kenya, Maldives, Oman, Seychelles and Pakistan. Within the Maldives they have bases in Baa, Laamu, Lhaviyani, Noonu, North Male’, Raa and Shaviyani atolls.

According to the ORP, the Maldivian archipelago is home to five of the seven species of sea turtles – Green Sea turtles, Hawksbill Sea turtles, Loggerhead Sea turtles, Olive Ridley Sea turtles and Leatherback Sea turtles. A significant challenge that affects the recording of data of these Sea turtles in the Maldives is the sheer number of atolls and islands nationwide. This also affects their ability to respond to emergency strandings and conduct rescue operations as well.

There are three major challenges ORP Maldives must overcome:

There is a significant lack of data on Sea turtle abundance and distribution in the area.

Entangled Sea turtles largely go undetected in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Maldives.

There is a fundamental knowledge gap regarding the threats to Sea turtles in the country and the impact these threats may have on sea turtle populations.

To overcome these obstacles, the holistic approach the Olive Ridley Project takes on consists of three key functions; Rescue & Rehabilitation, Education & Outreach, and finally, Scientific Research.

Rescue & Rehabilitation: ORP currently operates two facilities for turtle rescue and rehabilitation. The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre in Baa Atoll, and the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in North Male’ Atoll. However, these two facilities are not nearly enough to detect and treat rescued sea turtles, thus the organization is working towards establishing additional centres in various parts of the country.

Education & Outreach: ORP carries out education and outreach initiatives throughout the Maldives to a broad audience, from school children and boat crews, to tourists, volunteers and vets. They also aim to communicate with Fishermen about the best practices for when they may encounter an entangled sea turtle in danger when out fishing in the EEZ.

Scientific Research: ORP’s objective is to fill in the gaps of scientific knowledge regarding abundance, population growth rate, nesting and foraging sea turtle populations and more. They also undertake several research projects in collaboration with citizen scientists, organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other stakeholders. The ORP are also members of the Marine Reptile Working Group for the Maldives.

There are a multitude of ways in which citizens can also get involved and contribute to the Olive Ridley Project in Maldives. The ‘adopt a turtle’ program is a popular initiative to encourage the protection of sea turtles. Additionally, patrons can donate, give monthly, report ghost nets and sea turtle emergencies, and small businesses can also partner with the ORP for various projects. The Olive Ridley Project is an exceptional example of the importance of passion and dedication in working towards a common goal.