Heading back from a day’s diving at Ko Haa, a small group of Scubafish divers were lucky enough to be able to rescue a group of Olive Ridley Turtles who had been badly entangled in a discarded fishing net.
We had just finished a beautiful day out diving at Ko Haa and were on our way back to Ko Lanta on MV Moskito, when our Captain spotted something unusual floating on the surface of the sea approximately 1km south-west of Ko Haa.
We went closer to investigate and found a huge discarded fishing net. When we saw a weak wave of a flipper raised almost as a cry for help, we realised this was not good – there were several turtles caught up in the net struggling for their lives.
We jumped in and started to carefully untangle the turtles from the net. On closer inspection, we discovered that these were not the Hawksbill Turtles that we are most accustomed to seeing during our dives on the coral reefs in Ko Lanta’s National Marine Park, but rather they were a group of Olive Ridley Turtles who were presumably on their annual migration to mate and lay eggs.
There were four turtles in total and three were still alive. The turtles were badly entangled and the nets had started to cut deeply into their bodies.
We were able to release two of the turtles fairly easily in the sea, with the help of all our divers and staff, a sharp knife and some scissors.
The turtles seemed exhausted and rather wary of our help. As soon as they had been freed from the nets, they made a swift dive down into the safety of the ocean.
The third turtle was so badly entangled that we had to lift her onto the boat to be able to cut her out of the net.
The net was caught tightly around her neck and she was struggling to breathe and making heart-wrenching gasping sounds as she fought to stay alive.
It was a painstaking and distressing task, cutting nets that had become so tightly entangled that they had almost severed her fins in places and were literally choking her to death.
After about 30 minutes, we had finally cut her free from the fishing nets and both the turtle and all of us, were able to breathe freely again!
As we set her free at the back of the boat, our main worry was that her fin was too badly damaged from the nets to be able to heal and recover. But at least she was free to take her chances in the open ocean again and continue onwards on her annual swim towards the beach where she was born, to nest and lay her eggs.
On the same day that we rescued three Olive Ridley Turtles near Ko Haa – Moskito Divers in Ko Phi Phi also came across another Olive Ridley Turtle caught in a fishing net near Hin Bida. They were able to save this turtle as well. We have also heard reports that a dive centre in Phuket rescued Olive Ridley Turtles on the same day, caught in discarded fishing nets near the Ratcha Islands.
Olive Ridley Turtles are the smallest of the sea turtles, weighing up to around 45kgs and reaching only about 65cms in shell length. The olive ridley turtle is named for the generally greenish color of its skin and shell and are found only in warmer waters, including the southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Olive Ridley Turtles are usually solitary creatures, preferring swimming in the open ocean to living on a reef. Each year, they migrate hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to come together as a group for their mass synchronized nesting (arribada). During this ritual, the female turtles return to the beaches where they hatched and lumber onshore, sometimes in their thousands, to nest and lay their eggs. Their nesting season is from June to December and they use the wind and tides to help them return to the same beach where they themselves hatched.
Olive ridley sea turtles were once considered to be the most abundant species of turtle in the world. These turtles are now considered endangered because the few nesting sites in the world that remain are rapidly declining due to beach development around the world.
Other threats to olive ridley turtles include over-fishing, boat collisions and getting caught in fishing nets. Trawling, gill nets, ghost nests, long line, and pot fishing, have significantly impacted olive ridley populations, as well as other species of marine turtles. In addition, entanglement and ingestion of marine debris is listed as a major threat for this species.
Coastal development, natural disasters, climate change, and other sources of beach erosion, have also been cited as potential threats to nesting grounds. Additionally, coastal development also threatens newly hatched turtles through the effects of light pollution. Hatchlings, who use light cues to orient themselves to the sea, are now misled into moving towards land, and die from dehydration, exhaustion or are killed on roads.
Rough estimates put the worldwide population of nesting females at about 800,000, but their numbers are declining fast. We were just extremely grateful that we were in the right place at the right time (with a Captain with fantastic eyes) to be able to contribute a small gesture towards helping these beautiful, endangered marine animals.
The next day at Ko Haa dive site a little turtle thanks Viki for saving his friends from the nets…