Welcome our Sea Turtle Veterinarian, Dr Claire Petros!
Hi, I’m Dr Claire Petros and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, and my exciting collaboration with Pacsafe in this new series of blogs about sea turtles.
I am currently the lead veterinarian for the Olive Ridley Project, set up to help rescue sea turtles in the Indian Ocean that have been entangled in lost fishing nets (ghost gear). I am currently based in the UK working as a small animal emergency veterinarian. I simultaneously also help to run the Olive Ridley Project in the Maldives, where last year I set up and managed the sea turtle rescue centre.
My focus now is increasing awareness of the threat to sea turtles from plastics and ghost gear and supplying our veterinary centre with medication and equipment. I also keep busy (and immersed in everything turtle) by increasing awareness of the turtles’ plight by attending and presenting at conferences and symposiums across the world.
Last year I made what could possibly be considered the longest journey in the world in the name of turtles, from the Maldives to Las Vegas to be part of the International Sea Turtle Symposium! (One of the flights alone was 16.5 hours!!)
Extensive travel is essential to enable me to share my passion for turtles with like-minded individuals, keeping up to date with global issues and threats as well as increasing awareness of these beautiful creatures to an ever growing concerned international audience.
I love being in partnership with Pacsafe, as they share this ethos, combining safe and smart traveling with helping sea turtles! Last year Pacsafe’s brilliant Turtle Fund sponsored the Olive Ridley Project, which enabled us to set up and equip our rescue centre! So this unique combination of my love of turtles and travelling has led me to contribute monthly blogs over the coming year as a platform for sharing exciting and current turtle knowledge!
‘How did I come to work with sea turtles?’ – is a very common question I often get asked being a veterinarian from the UK. The answer is relatively simple; I love the sea, and sea turtles in my opinion, happen to be the most incredible marine animals found there. During my undergraduate years at Oxford, I specialised in marine biology, specifically coral reef conservation. The field work meant I was constantly under the water, diving to collect data, but I often found myself being distracted by the turtles feeding on the reef around me. Unchanged in appearance since the dawn of the dinosaurs, their inquisitive nature captivated me, as did the constant feeling of tranquillity surrounding them.
During my undergraduate degree I always knew that I would work with wildlife when I’d completed my veterinary course, but during my time at vet school in the UK unsurprisingly I found few outlets for this ambition, horses and cows were very much the norm especially attending the University of Bristol in the West country. I often attended conferences focusing on wildlife and zoological medicine, and it was at one of these conferences that I met a veterinary surgeon who specialises in turtles, Professor Gregory Lewbart. I followed this professor to America, where the veterinary school housed their very own turtle rescue team!
I was thrilled to be able to spend my final year elective placement at the veterinary university of North Carolina State University. Here I had my first hands-on experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of turtles, ranging from terrestrial box turtles (the British amongst us would call them tortoises), to feisty freshwater alligator turtles and yellow bellow sliders (or terrapins), to a huge adult green female (finally a sea turtle!), which was hospitalised to undergo cataract surgery having been rehabilitated following a cold stunning event (when turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures).
As a city girl from London, this seemed a world away from the common wildlife rescues which generally comprised of hedgehogs and song birds, so my intention to keep moving towards larger and scalier beasts into what to my mind was exotic and exciting, was set.
My first project work after graduating as a fully-fledged vet was in Grenada in the Caribbean, protecting the nests of leatherbacks with a local charity called Ocean Spirits. The night patrols on the beaches made me aware of the acute threat these turtles suffered, both from the local wildlife (turtle eggs are a particular favourite of stray dogs, herons and crabs) and from some of the local population too.
I’d like to give you a brief summary of what to expect in the upcoming blogs this year. I have recently returned from a very exciting sea turtle expedition in the Maldives in April. This was in partnership with the Sea Life Trust and the Olive Ridley project. We chartered a boat to navigate between unexplored reefs in the Southern atolls of the Maldives, in search of previously unidentified Hawksbill turtles to add to our photo identification ID programme, as well as constantly being on the lookout for ghost nets. In the next blog I’ll explain more about the work of the Olive Ridley Project and what it is to be a sea turtle veterinarian in the Maldives.
This summer I will also be traveling to Greece and Italy to visit two sea turtle rescue centres and the projects and efforts that they do help sea turtles. I plan to visit the Lampedusa Sea turtle rescue hospital in Italy and then on to Greece to visit the Archelon project, including the Amvrakikos Bay project and the sea turtle rescue centre.
I will be discussing the illegal trade of turtle products and meat and more about turtle biology, their egg laying behaviour, their migration and what exactly they spend their time doing when their lives mostly consist of being under the water in the deep oceans.
There will also be a blog dedicated to the seven species of sea turtle, their individual characteristics and where they can be found. A specific travel blog on where in the world to see sea turtles, the best times of year, places to stay and volunteer with turtle related charities, and where best to avoid, in terms of exploiting tourism and negatively impacting sea turtles.
I will also explore the huge threat of plastic to sea turtles and marine life, and what it is we can do to alleviate this global problem. In addition, I want to showcase the cities and countries around the world that are reducing their plastic waste and banning single use plastics, and highlight imaginative ideas to help to combat plastics at home. So please stay tuned for a monthly update on all things turtle!
By Dr Claire Petros
Claire Petros is a British veterinary surgeon that works for the Olive Ridley Project and actively increases awareness of ghost nets and the negative impacts of marine debris on wildlife. She is based in London but travels extensively to regularly attend conferences worldwide. Follow her adventures on Instagram here.