Olive Ridley Project - Maldives

The problem

In 2013, marine biologists working in the Maldives were concerned with the number of Olive Ridley turtles being found entangled in abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets (ghost nets). Since 2013, 630 injured sea turtles (including 546 Olive Ridley turtles, 257 of which were juveniles) have been rescued in the Maldives. Most of these injuries have been caused by entanglement in ghost nets coming from the Indian Ocean. Entanglements often lead to death or injuries so severe that rehabilitated turtles are unlikely to reproduce or survive if released back into wild.

The Maldives is made up of 26 atolls and 1,196 islands, 200 of which are inhabited and around 100 that have been developed into tourist resorts. It is likely that the turtles found are just the tip of the iceberg as a vast number are expected to evade land or wash up on uninhabited islands. Networking with different stakeholders, such as fishermen, resort management, the Maldivian government, and tourists will be key to reducing the current lack of data from remote northern and southern atolls.

The solution

Founded in 2013, the Olive Ridley Project is a citizen science project that seeks to protect and preserve the Indian Ocean from the negative effects of ghost nets, with the aim of reducing the entanglement of Olive Ridley turtles and other marine animals. The project applies a multidisciplinary approach of actively removing ghost nets from the environment while promoting end-of-life recycling of fishing nets. Given the lack of data and understanding of where the nets are coming from, the focus has been on seeking long term solutions for entanglement rather than just rehabilitating and rescuing turtles.

The project uses social media to coordinate net removals and turtle rescues which are carried out by local people, marine biologists, divers, resort staff and others. Data on where the nets are coming from is collected via an online net identification protocol. Where possible measurements from active fishing nets are taken and compared to the ghost nets to determine their origin(s). The project also records observations from around the Indian Ocean of poor fishing practices, in particular small or large scale netting methods or any methods deemed detrimental to the survival of marine organisms. Once the source of the nets is known, the intention is to develop an action plan to reduce and eventually prevent marine animals becoming entangled in nets at such a high frequency.

The International Union for Conservation of nature (IUCN) and the Maldives Marine Research Centre provide technical assistance for the project.

The outcomes

87% of turtles entangled have been Olive Ridley turtles with 47% recorded juveniles. As of March 2015, 546 entangled Olive Ridleys have been recorded and over 745 ghost net conglomerates have been removed from Maldivian waters, made up of 1,340 single nets.

Given that the main fishing techniques used in the Maldives are pole-and-line and hand line, the majority of ghost nets found have drifted with oceanic currents from neighbouring countries. Data collected to date suggest that these nets may be coming from India, Sri Lanka and further afield in Southeast Asia during the Northeast Monsoon. Data also implicate the Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) purse seine fishery in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea during the Southwest Monsoon. Entangled Olive Ridley turtles are most often found in the Northeast Monsoon. An ongoing challenge is identifying which countries, and which fisheries, nets are originating from. Currently, social surveys are being conducted in several Indian Ocean countries to determine the main reasons why nets are being lost or abandoned.

Dave Bretherton, Olive Ridley Project

Dave Bretherton, Olive Ridley Project

The lessons

Mesh sizes of nets found entangling turtles have ranged from as small as 35 millimetres to 590 millimetres, which means that every fishing net used in the Indian Ocean (aside from small bait nets) are dangerous to sea turtles. Additionally, the Olive Ridley turtle seems to be most at risk of entanglement because they are open ocean dwellers that are known to approach natural flotsam, such as tree trunks and algal mats, looking for food, shelter, and resting places.

The lack of disposal facilities and recycling opportunities for old fishing nets around the Indian Ocean are two main factors contributing to ghost net production in this region. Other factors include lack of education and resources of coastal communities, continually increasing fishing pressure, and the lack of regulation on the use of FADs in the Western Indian Ocean.

Key contacts 

Mr Martin Stelfox

Founder / Chief Executive



Dr. Jillian Hudgins

Senior Project Scientist



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