Jean-Michael Cousteau is the David Attenborough of the subaquatic world. A generation of sea lovers, like myself who watched it diligently as a child, were inspired by his prime time “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” (a sample episode of sharks is featured below). He never shot an episode from the Maldives, though in 1997 the ubiquitously marine Maldives honoured him with a postage stamp (see bottom). But Ritz Carlton Maldives has brought his enduring legacy to the Maldives with their “Ocean Futures Society” collaboration with Jean-Michael Cousteau (Jacques’ son) which is carrying on the family mission to inspire people around the world with not just appreciate the aquatic world, but to take care of it.
The centre has sponsored six projects at the Ritz Maldives. One is exploring the concept of coral reefs as “underwater cities”. The notion described in Richard Murphy’s “Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea” postulates that all coral reefs have species who do different “jobs” (such as janitor, policeman, builder, farmer, etc. Curiously. which species do which roles varies from coral reef to coral reef.
“Grouper in the Maldives are in trouble. Due to high demand and market prices, the Maldives grouper export fishery has escalated since the 1980s, spreading throughout the country. The most recent study in 2011 revealed a concerning situation: grouper stocks are declining and smaller sized fish are being taken. Larger fish have selectively been removed and fishers are targeting spawning aggregation sites. Recent catch data show that for the ten most commonly exploited species of groupers, 70% of individuals are taken prior to reaching sexual maturity, meaning that they had not had a chance to reproduce before being caught. The Blue Marine Foundation has formed a partnership with the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MOFA) and Six Senses Laamu, a beautifully sustainable, luxury resort with a passion for marine conservation. In collaboration with MOFA, BLUE has designed a project to promote a better documented and more sustainable grouper fishery in the Maldives by protecting threatened grouper spawning aggregations. Research suggests that grouper have been overfished for at least 15 years in Laamu Atoll.”
Blue Marine are the grouper groupies of the Maldives.
With this post, I’ve added the tag “Marine Life Conservation” to cover post about initiatives to save various aquatic creatures (bigger than coral polyps as those projects are covered extensively in the “Reef Regeneration” tag).
“Since 2016, we’ve worked with the team at Critter to develop a mobile app built on their Track system, and in 2019 we’re proud to release the next generation full of exciting new features. ‘Whale Shark Network Maldives’ now takes technology that has long been the preserve of scientists at desktop computers and puts it into the hands of anyone with a mobile device. This innovative approach representing a huge leap for efficiency in citizen science engagement caught the attention of Apple, who selected the app from over 2.5 million others on the app store and championed it in the Keynote of Apple’s annual World.”
Whale Shark Spotter on steroids. They’ve also merged two general features of Maldives Complete – (a) a spotting tracker, and (b) a database lookup (with individual profiles). Add a blog and you have Whale Shark Complete!
Hatchling scampers to a new live at sea during our 2015 Velaa visit.
Q: What is the best way increase the odds of sea turtle hatchlings surviving?
A: Put them in nurseries to help them grow stronger?
Q: Buzzzzzz! Nope. The fairly common practice of collecting hatchlings and protecting them by nurturing them in special nursery pools turns out to cause long term problems for the turtles.
World Turtle Day today is the opportunity “to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive”. Most people know about the dangers of plastic refuse to turtles (they get caught in six-pack rings and mistake plastic bags for jelly fish which they try to eat). But even those keen to help the critters are less aware of the issues with well-intended turtle nurseries.
The nursery misconception stems from the “numbers game”. As Marine Biologists Tess Moriarty and Dee Bello (who kindly provided most of the research for this piece) from Velaa resort (THE Turtle resort – “Velaa” means “Turtle” in Dhivehi) describes, “For turtles it is always a numbers game, they have many threats to their survival and it is commonly known that many do not make it to adulthood.” The concept of nurseries is to allow the hatchlings to grow to a more significant size where much fewer predators would be able to manage eating them.
Unfortunately, turtle nurseries have a number of problems for the turtles they are trying to help…
Predator Dangers – Turtles may evade predators when small, but then don’t learn to and how to avoid them later in life which keeps them vulnerable.
Diet – Nursery turtles don’t get to eat the staples of the normal ocean diet like jellyfish or sargassum.
Orientation – One of the miracles of turtle procreation is how they instinctively head to the water’s edge on birth, but then also they come back to where they were born to nest s adults. Studies show that taking hatchlings on birth into nurseries disorients them and they don’t return to nest.
So what CAN be done to help these endangered little tykes? Dee offers up the following…
Hatcheries: This technique is when the nests are relocated from where the female lays the eggs on the beach to a different location. This is used on beaches that have severe erosion or flooding problems and thus the nests would not survive, nests that are too close to the shore line and would get inundated and mostly on beaches where human poaching of eggs for food is abundant. This method actively saves many eggs and ensured they can develop and hatch, thus increasing the number of hatchlings making it to the sea.
Fencing the nests: Shielding both the hatchery and on the beach deters humans from poaching eggs from the nests as they are under surveillance. It also ensures that there must be someone present to release the hatchlings into the sea when they emerge from the nest and thus predation from crabs and birds is greatly reduced.
Protection laws: Creating laws that prohibit the killing or possessing turtle products it directly influences their populations. The protection of adult females laying eggs, poaching of the eggs on the beaches and the capturing of turtles in the sea, increases the amount of turtles and nests on the beaches.
Of course, all these measures are focused on the young turtles. But even when they get all grown up, they still could use our help in surviving (especially since human actions cause many of the adult hazards)…
Turtle Exclusion Devices (TED). Turtles need to breath air in order to survive and unfortunately when they get trapped in nets they are unable to do so. This can be avoided using TED’s where turtles can escape the nets intended for fishing other fish.
Research: Understanding where turtles migrate to (using advanced tools like satellite tracking), at what times and their feeding and breading patterns can help aim protection to make it more successful and increase awareness.
Awareness: By spreading the word about the turtle population’s vulnerability, more people understand their situation and need to protect them. This awareness leads to leads to less poaching and donations that support more conservation projects.
A real ‘Born Free’ story in the Maldives are the turtle nurseries that a few resorts support. Our family delighted at the nursery tank that Filtheyo had and visiting it fostered our daughter Isley’s love of turtles and her adoption of them as her favourite creature to this day. But, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa have taken a page from their sister resort of Landaa Giraavaru to creative a comprehensive turtle conversation programme around their newly launched nursery and discovery center.
Kuredu may be the destination for big, monster turtles in the wild. But at the complete other end of the spectrum, Kuda Huraa is now the place to experience these charming critters up close and personal in their infancy. Taking a page from their sister resort’s (Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru) stunning Marine Discovery Centre which focuses on Mantas and Anenome Fish, Kuda Huraa has opened a comparable centre but with a focus on turtles…
“Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles live in the Maldives, and two of these are regularly seen. The critically endangered hawksbill turtle lives on coral reefs, while the endangered green turtle feeds on seagrass, keeping the seabed healthy and productive. The Resort’s Kuda Velaa (‘Little Turtles’) Protection Programme works with island communities across the Maldives to increase awareness of turtle conservation and protect nests from poachers. The project also gives endangered green turtles a head start in life by rearing a select number of hatchlings from protected nests for up to 15 months to improve their chance of survival in the wild. For the first nine months they are kept in land-based pools before they are relocated to larger enclosures in the lagoon where they will start to forage for themselves on sea grasses, adapting them to the wild. Guests can attend daily turtle feeding sessions to learn more about Kuda Huraa’s most delicate little residents.”
“’It’s awe-inspiring; I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere,’ she says. Her favourite part of the Four Seasons Maldives at Kuda Huraa is the children’s activities section. She’s also thrilled about shooting with turtles, something that the Bazaar team has captured in this shoot.”
The first 5 areas are in a string right across the centre of the atoll, and at the eastern edge is Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. In fact, Dhuni Kolhu is right next to Hanifaru Reef, the closest any resort is to a protected area.
Mantas are the most magical creatures I have seen in the wild. They have an a otherworldly aura to them that seems almost like a beneficent alien spaceship. And they too appreciate spa treatments that they get from wrasse fish at ‘cleaning stations.’
The resort most smitten with Mantas has to be Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. One of the major focus areas of their Marine Centre are mantas where they run their Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP). The programme was founded by Senior Marine Biologist Guy Stevens and is supported by Save Our Seas. It has the largest number of identified manta rays on record in the world. Landaa honours this work with a distinctive Manta sculpture in its Marine Discovery Centre. And, the Maldives section of Clune’s show is filmed at Landaa including an interview with Stevens.