Day 5: Volunteering at Turtle Rescue Sanctuary – The Olive Ridley Project

It’s already day five and today the sanctuary is under attack from…. caterpillars! Not only did the centre suffer from terrible storms overnight but the caterpillars were everywhere!

Pash was not impressed!

Day 5

Caterpillars of death

The storm raged pretty much all night, and the centre looked like it had been ransacked over night. There was so much to do, but the most pressing thing was to rid the centre of caterpillars.

Here, I need to have a rant about these damn caterpillars. The Maldives are known for their sealife, but on the islands, there are a number of interesting land animals too. There are hermit crabs scurrying around the island day and night, giant fruit bats, gekkos, iguana-like prehistoric looking lizards and a few different bird species. But at Coco Palm, there are also caterpillars. You might think, ah well fairly innocuous. You would be wrong. So so wrong. These wicked hairy caterpillars hang on silken threads dangling from the trees along all the paths around the island, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting mug to walk into them. And then their evil wrongdoings start. They shed their hairs on your skin and clothes, and at the time you don’t notice. But the hairs break up and migrate over your skin causing a pretty nasty allergic reaction. Small red itchy bumps appear on your skin, which are not easily relieved with either anti-histamines or hydrocortisone cream.

I already had a few areas where these nasty little creepie crawlies had “got” me, but after the storm there were EVERYWHERE!!! Hence our first job being to rid the centre of them, which probably took about two hours. Finally we were rid of the vast majority of them, and we could get on wound care.

Seaheart (or Mr. Seaheart as he is affectionately known around the centre), was due for some wound care. He is an adult male Olive Ridley, with one flipper amputated, and a ligature wound on the remaining flipper where he was entangled in nets. For wound care, he has to be removed from the tank. Lead vet Claire took a look, and treated his wounds with a solution of Gentian Violet which is a bright purple antiseptic dye used to treat fungal infections of the skin, and also has antibacterial properties.

His amputation wound was treated with iodine, which is also an antiseptic solution used for skin disinfection. Sone of his wounds were also treated with Flamazine cream, a topical anti-bacterial cream. He was then flipped onto his back to examine some of his other wounds, which were treated with Flamazine and manuka honey. Claire took the opportunity to debride some of the granulation tissue around his ligature wound on his existing flipper. This looks pretty brutal, but is necessary to remove the damaged tissues so the skin underneath can heal. The granulation tissue on a turtle is a yellowish colour and kind of looks a bit like overdone scrambled egg. Underneath, the tissue is looking good, although there is still a small area where Claire shows me exposed bone. It was hoped that Seaheart could be released in a few days time, but this will be delayed for a couple of weeks or so until his wounds heal a little more.

With wound care on Seaheart and Sunan complete, it was feeding time. We had all tried to get Honu our newest arrival to eat, but so far she had not been interested. Not holding out much luck, I dangled some fish into her tank. She actually showed a little spark of interest… patience is the name of the game here, and eventuality she took a piece of fish from the forceps. Success!!! Still interested, she ate a few pieces, which is a great sign.

We had decided to give Azura a day off from swimming, and took Heidi down to the ocean. Heidi is a long-term resident of the centre. He is an adult male (originally thought to be female hence the name). Heidi had a flipper amputated which was not salvageable, and sadly his remaining flipper is non-functioning. However, Heidi can swim and dive just fine. He is not suitable for release however, with no functioning fore flippers. Whilst he can get about in a tank and in calm seas, it is unlikely he would survive stormy rough seas. The charity is looking for a permanent home for him, hopefully one can be found in a large ocean aquarium. Back to the sea swim though. Not needing as much encouragement as Azura, within a few minutes of being in the sea, Heidi is diving to the bottom and crunching on rocks and corals. It’s lovely to see, he’s acting just like a normal turtle, and it breaks my heart just a little that he will never be able to return to the oceans where he truly belongs, but he simply wouldn’t survive. It’s so special though, that the charity for activities such as this, to enrich the lives of their long-term residents. One day hopefully Heidi will have a forever home, where he can do turtley things.

Working day finished and I left the centre to head back to my room. The resort had been spraying the trees to “discourage” the caterpillars, but I think it had the exact opposite effect. Around literally every corner they were lying (dangling) in wait like assassins. At one point, I couldn’t actually see a way through, the path was like something out of an Indiana Jones film with these deadly booby-trapped critters everywhere. I had to stop, and plot my way through before I committed to and ran. Even the memories of it now makes my shudder. I thought the worst was over, but oh, how wrong I was.

Day 6: Read Day 6 HERE

Missed Day 4? Read it  HERE

If you would like to donate to the Olive Ridley Project, you can do so HERE

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