Dr Claire Petros is the Veterinary Surgeon at the Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Marine Turtle Rescue Centre – the country’s first fully-equipped turtle centre to feature a resident veterinarian. The centre opened in February and Dr Petros played a pivotal role in the establishment of the facility.

Dr Petros is not your everyday wildlife partisan. She is, however ‘the turtle lady’ – based in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, and very well equipped to conduct all forms of surgical procedures on injured or sick turtles. She comes with extensive knowledge and experience in caring for animals, especially those that need special care.

“I have always had the ambition to work with wildlife, in particular combining medicine with conservation. I’ve always been drawn to the sea, as I am a keen swimmer and diver. During my veterinary studies I really enjoyed learning about exotic species and knew that I wanted to work in this field,” she said.

Dr Claire Petros is the Veterinary Surgeon at the Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Marine Turtle Rescue Centre – the country’s first fully-equipped turtle centre to feature a resident veterinarian. The centre opened in February and Dr Petros played a pivotal role in the establishment of the facility.

Dr Petros is not your everyday wildlife partisan. She is, however ‘the turtle lady’ – based in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, and very well equipped to conduct all forms of surgical procedures on injured or sick turtles. She comes with extensive knowledge and experience in caring for animals, especially those that need special care.

“I have always had the ambition to work with wildlife, in particular combining medicine with conservation. I’ve always been drawn to the sea, as I am a keen swimmer and diver. During my veterinary studies I really enjoyed learning about exotic species and knew that I wanted to work in this field,” she said.

“I am leading the turtle centre here at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu,” she told Hotelier Maldives, “My main role is to care for the injured turtles that we find around the country with the intention of being able to release them when recovered as quickly as possible.”

Injured sea turtles are not a rare sight in the Maldives waters. Though turtles are a protected species in the Maldives, their foes range from abandoned fishing nets, and people, who are hungry for their meat, eggs, and shells.

Ghost nets are nets that have been discarded, abandoned or lost in the ocean. They can continue to entangle endangered and vulnerable animals such as marine turtles, birds, sharks, rays, dolphins and whales, long after they have been discarded, abandoned or lost.

“Turtles are very attracted to ghost gear as it often contains an easy meal, but unfortunately during the process of trying to eat the fish entrapped in the nets, the turtles themselves become entangled,” she explained.

“Sadly, the effort to escape is so great by the animal that it exerts enough force to break its own bones and the extent of the injuries suggests that turtles may suffer for weeks before dying, or hopefully be rescued.”

Research shows that the waters around the Maldives are one of the most abundant with ghost nets, though most of them are not left behind by Maldivian fishermen, where the use of nets for fishing is uncommon. Due to the high number of drifting ghost nets, the number of reported cases of entangled turtles is quite high.

Coco Collection, which operates Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, was first introduced to the Olive Ridley Project (ORP) – a U.K.-based charity – in 2013 through their former Marine Biologist Chiara Fumagalli.

Since then, it has been working closely with ORP to rescue sea turtles found entangled in drift nets. Following a partnership forged in January 2015, the turtle rescue centre opened its doors with Evo – the centre’s first official patient – a malnourished hawksbill sea turtle with a buoyancy related sickness.

“Ghost nets are the turtles’ worst nightmare. Entanglement in abandoned nets could result in severe injuries to their flippers and necks,” she explained, “And once turtles are found entangled in fishing nets, care must be put to avoid further injury when they are being untangled.”

Dr Petros has a great interest in public and community awareness and educating people on marine conservation issues. This is also part of her work at the turtle centre. Dr Petros will be working closely with the local communities, especially students from neighbouring islands of Thulhadhoo and Hithaadhoo; teaching them about Marine ecology, turtle husbandry and medicine.

“I am also involved with teaching at the schools of the local islands. We have a lecture series that is being followed up with trips to the centre so that the children have a chance to meet our patients. At the resort, I provide lectures for the guests once a week, to educate and spread awareness of our project.”

Dr Petros believes that the turtle centre established in Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is a step in the right direction not just for the injured turtles, but for veterinary medicine within the Maldives. Coco Collection also has planned to open a second facility in Coco Bodu Hithi in the near future.

“I would very much like to see the centre grow and have increased facilities to treat these turtles. I would also like to see the growth of veterinary care within the Maldives, not only for turtles, and would very much like to be a part of this progression in animal care,” she said, sharing her dreams for the future.