A day in the life of Claire Lomas, the Veterinary Surgeon at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Dec, 14 2017


The Olive Ridley Project Marine Turtle Rescue Centre at Coco Palm is busy as ever, and we have a new veterinary surgeon heading the operations. Meet Dr. Claire Lomas! 

Growing up in North Wales, Claire has always wanted to be a vet from the time she could talk.  During her veterinary training at Edinburgh University, she developed a keen interest in exotic medicine at their specialist hospital. From there, she focused her work experience on zoo and wildlife work, working in UK zoos and with a wildlife vet in South Africa.  
Claire has always dreamed of working in conservation, particularly in the preservation of the oceans and its marine life.  
Keen to find out how her typical day at Coco Palm is like? Here we go!  

The day begins…

I start my day at the centre by feeding our turtles their breakfast.   We mostly feed them fish but occasionally they get crabs, squid and sometimes even vegetables to vary their diet! Their favourite food is crab and they go absolutely crazy when we feed them this - it’s the turtle equivalent of catnip! Some of our turtles have problems with buoyancy so can’t dive below the surface so we have to hand feed them.  After feeding we use a net to remove scraps from the tanks.  Then we have morning medications and any treatments that the turtles are receiving.  The middle of the day is for paperwork, general centre upkeep, tank cleaning and more feeding in the afternoon.  That is the general routine and then we fit in anything else that needs to be done from surgery to lab investigation.

Give us an idea of the treatments plans for a turtle patient at the centre.

We don’t have a set routine as every patient is different and their treatments change as they progress. They get weighed once a week and we also give them scrubs to remove the buildup of algae which allow us to keep an eye on their shell and skin condition.  They also have vitamin and mineral supplements – you can imagine the challenge of trying to get a turtle to take a tablet!   Some turtles are receiving physiotherapy for bad joints, others are on medications or receiving wound care.  Our little Stitch is getting eye medication and has to sit in a dry box twice a day to allow the ointment to sink in – she’s not impressed by this! She is also having daily swimming lessons in the ocean to try and improve her buoyancy problem and swimming ability – at the moment her direction is very much decided by the current!

The best turtle moment ever!

I’ve had some great moments with the turtles, the highlight had to be releasing Chanel.  She arrived the day before me and she was my first surgery at the centre.  To see her recover from such severe injuries and turn into an active and feisty character, then watch her swim off determinedly into the deep blue was truly incredible.
A more bizarre turtle moment came recently when a large female green turtle came to lay her eggs on the island and got lost along the way. She managed to climb a set of stairs and fall in a guest’s pool before being found in the morning!  Luckily, she was rescued without injury and quickly swam out to sea. I hope she returns soon and finds a more suitable place for her eggs!

Most interesting question you have had from a visitor to the centre

It’s always interesting chatting with guests at the center. A lot of questions are the same but I do get asked some unusual ones.  I once got asked if turtles feel phantom-limb pain from amputations.  I thought this was really interesting and made me reflect on both how our body works compared with turtles and also how there are many things we will perhaps never know as I cannot ask my animal patients such things.
Another question that sticks out was whether their limbs grew back  – I found this quite funny but also thought how amazing that would be if true - it would definitely make my job much easier!

Most emotional goodbye…

My happiest goodbye was definitely Chanel who I mentioned before, she really was a special turtle and I had “empty tank syndrome” for a while after!  She was so curious and friendly and made me smile every time I saw her.  It’s always hard saying goodbye when we know there are many challenges they face in the ocean, all we can do is wish them the best. 
A sad goodbye was when we lost Coco.  She was doing well in the beginning but unfortunately deteriorated due to her injuries, further along, the rehabilitation process.  It was awful to see her grow weaker despite extensive treatment and heartbreaking to see her empty tank in the days that followed.


Best way to end the day at Coco Palm?

My favourite way to end the day is to jump in the ocean and swim out as the sun sets.  It’s a great time to see sharks and also turtles that are swimming free – it reminds me of our purpose and the future that lies ahead for our own turtles.  
I was once lucky enough to swim with a pod of dolphins just off our house reef. One came so close to me and seemed to be checking out what I was!  It was an unbelievable experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.