Monday, 19 May 2014

Baby Turtles and Saving Devil Rays

Schooling  Devil Rays
It has been another busy couple of weeks at Scuba Junkie, both at our Semporna/Mabul resorts as well as up in Kota Kinabalu. Recently, whilst diving around Kota Kinabalu, our Scuba Junkie team came across an upsetting sight. Having just jumped into the water for a quick dive site check, Rowan – an Instructor at Scuba Junkie KK - came across four Spinetail Devil Rays entangled in a large fishing net.  He quickly gathered the rest of the staff and interns on the trip and they began their rescue mission. Whilst they worked to cut the rays free the rays remained placid, seemingly aware of the efforts to help and welcoming the assistance, allowing Rowan to cut through the netting. As soon as the first one was freed it zoomed off, showing us just how quickly and effortlessly they can move. The second ray they saved was extremely weak, and struggled to swim away once released. The video shows Rowan lifting the ray and moving it slowly through the water. This allows water to pass through its gills, putting oxygen back into its body - it quickly regains its strength and swims away! Thanks to the quick action of everyone involved two of the rays were cut free and swam off, their lives saved; unfortunately for two, they were too late. It was both an exhilarating and disheartening experience for those involved.

A video of this once in a lifetime experience can be seen at 

The next day the net was removed, and it was a large one. Without our intervention who knows what else could have become trapped and died in it. This is a clear demonstration that we need to get this area protected. These were discarded nets, not ones in use; maybe they were damaged and fisherman left them behind, not wanting to haul them back onto their boats. It is a disgraceful practice, and in this case we can consider it lucky more things were not caught up in the nets. Turtles and dolphins have previously been found dead, having drowned whilst entangled in similar nets. Getting to save two Devil Rays is something extremely special, the net may have caught four, but who knows how many more are swimming around in the waters off of Kota Kinabalu!

Before the hatchlings break free, the sand in the nest starts to drop
(See the small indent near the bottom of the photo)
It’s been a good few weeks in Mabul as well. Remember all those turtle nests we have in our hatchery? Well we were very lucky to have one hatch just a few weeks ago. Dave and Steve had spent a few hours overseeing the relocation of a new nest, a Green turtle that had come up and laid 134 eggs. Just as they had finished relocating the nest to our hatchery, the sand from one of the old nests erupted with tiny baby turtles. A night of non-stop turtle action!  Other staff, interns and guests were alerted to the action. The little Green turtle hatchlings were carefully placed in a bucket full of sand and carried down to a few meters off of the shoreline. From here they are released, just a few at a time – something that everyone can get involved with. We released  101 from this particular nest. This is an extremely controlled procedure, no torches or camera flashes are allowed so that the setting is kept as natural as possible, and everyone who releases a turtle is required to wear gloves. Everyone is asked to stand well to the side, so there is no risk of the hatchlings running into the crowd. It is an amazing sight, watching tiny little turtles sprint into the ocean, relying completely on natural instinct to know where to go and how to get there.

Sprint to the Ocean!
Tiny Green Turtle!!

We still have a further 6 nests in our hatchery, some of which are due to hatch in the next few weeks. With Turtle Week just around the corner, it’s a great time to be on Mabul!

Facts about Green Turtles:
  • Green Turtles are named after the green colour of their fat
  • Green turtles hatchlings have a special ‘egg tooth’ that they use to break out of the egg, that they subsequently lose
  • They reach sexual maturity between 26 and 40 years
  • The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings

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