The reef in Polhena is home to a lot of sea turtles and they stay there all around the year. Randunu Dimeshan had encountered these creatures frequently, whenever he goes down for a dive. He had been able to identify certain sea turtles with a scar or looking at their damaged carapace. Randunu works at the Polhna Diving Center.
Chathurika Munasinghe has completed research and can specialize in identifying sea turtles based on their photos.
Munasinghe and Dimeshan had met at a small discussion and launched the Sri Lanka Turtle ID project, months before COVID-19 struck Sri Lanka. They believe that turtles have specific facial patterns that are quite unique. It works just like fingerprints on humans and can be used to identify these sea animals.
They built up a database by clicking clear mug shots and an image of their shell. These pictures were uploaded on the Turtle ID project’s website and were compared with patterns that were already stored in the database.
Facially Identifying The Sea Turtles
This project has identified 18 hawksbill turtles and 3 green ones. They were all females. The most common kind of turtle found in these waters is the olive ridley sea turtle.
Dimeshan has named all the identified turtles and Tammy was the first to be identified. The other sea turtles are Alice, Shelah, Chuta, Avondster, Polly, Olya, and Keyara.
The aim of the project was to create a database of these sea turtles in order to assess their population size. These animals use the water around Sri Lanka to feed and use certain reefs to breed. The team plans to extend the database to find out the migratory pattern of these animals.
Claire Jean was the first person to introduce facial pattern identification to make out different turtles. He worked at the Kelonia Aquarium in the Indian Ocean which specializes in sea turtles.
The Turtle ID project uses software known as the I3S pattern where the machine identifies the turtles. The first point of reference is the tip of the nose and the inner edges of the eye and the last scale. This software, then, outlines the other zones and selects 35 points within them, called identification marks. After this is completed, the software shows the name of the sea turtle closest to the input and the user takes care of the rest. This technique is also used to identify whale sharks on the basis of their spot patterns.
The Pandemic’s Toll On The Turtle ID Project
Munasinghe has started taking sessions for researchers where they aim to get dive centers just to support the photo ID project.
The ID project started slowly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government imposed a lockdown in 2020 and it forced all the dive centers to shut down in Sri Lanka. The marine research as a whole had come to a halt for a year and a half.
The recent months had seen a rise in the urgency about the conservation of sea turtles in Sri Lanka after the MV X-Press Pearl cargo sank near the west coast of Sri Lanka. The cargo ship was transporting nitric acid, plastic, and 378 metric tons of fuel. After the sinking of the cargo ship, more than 200 sea turtles have been observed dead on the shores or in the waters nearby.
Munasinghe is hopeful that the dive centers will restart soon and they will be able to update the database again, with the steady aim to help in the conservation of these sea turtles.
Image Credits: SRI LANKAN TURTLE ID PROJECT