The Olive Ridley Project

The Problem

Lost, discarded or abandoned fishing nets are responsible for entangling and killing millions of animals each year. This is not a new problem as we know that fishing gear has been abandoned since man first went to sea. In recent years an increase in fishing effort has seen an alarming rise in ghost nets around the world.

The Olive Ridley Project (ORP), Maldives

The Olive Ridley Project was founded in the Maldives in 2013 to address the alarming number of entangled sea turtles . Pole and Line fishing is the main fishing method used in the Maldives. Therefore the majority of ghost nets found are traveling with ocean currents from neighboring Indian Ocean countries. The Maldives unique geographical location lying north – south across the south – west monsoonal currents act like a trap for drifting objects and unfortunately this “trap” regularly accumulates huge ghost nets, many with entangled turtles inside.

Olive Ridley Turtle

Two entangled Olive Ridley Turtles however they were released.

Fishing Net Malaysia

Typical size of ghost net drifting into the Maldives – Huge tangle of many different nets.

Fishing Net Olive Ridley Turtles

Two Olive Ridleys entangled in a ghost net.

Ghost Net removal in the Indian Ocean

We are currently the only organisation in the Indian Ocean working specifically on ghost gear. Because of the complexity of the problem and the sheer size of the area we work in. We have a multidisciplinary approach to protect and preserve the marine environment from the negative effects associated with ghost nets within the Indian Ocean. This includes removal of nets, recycling of nets, education and rehabilitation of entangled turtles.

We are a citizen science based organisation; anybody can collect information on all ghost net encounters or entanglement found in the Indian Ocean. Since ghost nets typically follow ocean currents, we must bring Indian Ocean countries together to fight this problem regionally.

Who are We Working With

Maldives – Nationwide

We work closely with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and have developed a protocol that standardises data collection methods regionally. ORP have trained over 100 volunteers throughout the Maldivian archipelago. We do this by conducting seminars, workshops and through individual tuition. This is open to anybody who is in the region and would like to get involved.

Maldives Government

Furthermore, we work closely with the Marine Research Centre in the Maldives (Maldivian government). Giving local talks at schools throughout the Maldives. We work with the local fishing community to encourage them to remove any ghost gear they find. Together we represented the problem on a regional level during the last Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) 10th Working party on Ecosystem and By catch held in Japan. The problem is a major concern for sea turtles that requires immediate attention.

In response to the suffering of entangled turtles we have recently teamed up with Coco Collection resorts and we aim to build a turtle rescue centre at Dhuni Kholu resort later in 2015. It will be the first of its kind run by a professional veterinarian with experience in Reptilian care.

Olive Ridley Helpers

ORP and Coco Collection teaching children the effects of garbage on sea turtles. Thulaadhoo in Baa atoll.

India – Karnataka Coast

We have teamed up with the Terra Marine Research Institute, (TeMI) a local NGO advocating and using sound scientific and socio-economic tools to study and conserve India’s terrestrial and marine biodiversity. We are working on a number of projects including a recycling project for end of life fishing nets within fishing communities of Karnataka.

Dr Olive Ridley Project

Our Project Scientist Annie Kurian visits Mumbai and discovers ghost nets for recycling. We are trying to secure funds to make this happen and stop nets ending up in the ocean.

A 2015 Turtle Conservation Workshop aim was to address the increased mortalities of endangered sea turtles along the east coast of India. Ghost gear made up the many subjects discussed during the workshop. ORP’s Project scientist Dr Annie Kurian and co-founder of TeMI was on hand to discuss the problem of ghost gear in our oceans.

We have also worked outside the Karnataka coast and trained volunteers on data collection in the Lakshadweep Islands, and Nicobar and Andaman islands. Who send us data on ghost gear when found.

Pakistan – Understanding Ghost gear in Pakistan

Olive Ridley Project recently secured funding through the Rufford Small grant fund and will be working alongside WWF-Pakistan along Karachi Coast. Very little information is available on they types of fishing nets used in Pakistan. The rate of lost gear and reason is unknown. Their main fishing technique is gill nets however bycatch rate are very high. Bycatch means that you indivertibly catch species such as sharks, turtles and dolphins etc.

Working with local fishing communities

ORP plans to work with the local fishing communities along the coast to understand problems fishers face and the reason behind lost gear. We plan to record the types of fishing gear used in the area. In addition ORP will train a group of 5 local divers on data collection methods and they will represent ORP as trained representatives on data collection when finding ghost gear. They will work closely with their local fishing community and together help retrieve lost gear.

Scientist Olive Ridley Project

Umair Shahid from WWF-Pakistan and Martin Stelfox will be working together in Pakistan surveying the Karachi coast and working with local fishing communities to understand ghost gear in the area.

Global Ghost Gear Initiative – (GGGI)

This alliance is committed to solving a world wide problem of lost and abandoned ghost nets. ORP teamed up with leading experts on ghost gear and is the only organisation working in the Indian Ocean region.

“Our aims are to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals from harm and safeguard human health and livelihoods. “

Martin Stelfox

This will hopefully be achieved using three strategic approaches:

1. Build evidence
2. Define best practices
3. Catalyse and replicate solutions

Our senior project scientist Dr Jillian Hudgins attended a round table in Slovenia last year. We look forward to attending the next working party later in 2015.

Fisher surveys in Iran, India and the Maldives

ORP has distributed surveys to fishing communities in key locations within Iran, India and the Maldives. The surveys plan to highlight the reason why fishing gear becomes lost, abandoned or discarded. When we understand problems fishers face and the opinion on ghost gear within the community we can work towards reducing the problem.

Working with Blue View Diver in Thailand.

Olive Ridley Project is extremely excited to be working alongside Blue View Divers (BVD) on Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Many nets found in the Maldives have attachments that give clues as to where they may have come from. We find turtles entangled in nets in the Maldives with Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Thai markings .

Thailand’s fishing practices are poorly understood although Thai vessels unfortunately exploit the local areas. This is making it difficult for local fishers to sustain livelihoods.

Identifying ghost net origins

We found ghost nets on our first beach clean and of course we recorded them which is the first time we recorded data in Thailand. And interestingly of the three nets found, two matched nets found in the Maldives. It is tempting to suggest that nets may travel as far as Thailand into the Maldives via powerful ocean currents.

Local Phi Phi Community

Blue View Divers have knowledge of the local area and we are excited to work with them. To educate local communities on the effects of lost fishing gear on sea turtles within the region. Working with local fishermen can help us understand why nets are lost. We can identify struggles they face with current fishing practices. We encourage local dive schools to collect and record ghost nets data.

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Olive Ridley Project Founder Martin Stelfox working with the Blue View Divers team cleaning up ghost gear in the Indian Ocean.

To find out more about what we do please visit the Olive Ridley Project Website at

Additionally, you can join Blue View divers on some Citizen Science Based Conservation Dives!