A sea turtle with a damaged spine is being kitted out with its own dive-belt to help it swim underwater.

Green turtle Ali is one of five now living at the Weymouth Sea Life centre after being hit by boats in Florida Keys and suffering back injuries which left them unable to dive.

“All five had weights glued to their shells to help them submerge, but Ali’s shell is so badly damaged the weights won’t stay attached,” said curator Fiona Smith.

Now Ali is to be fitted with a specially tailored dive-belt, made by the centre’s own dive-suit supplier Portland-based O’Three.

“It will have shoulder straps to help secure it and pockets for the weights, to act just like a diver’s weight belt,” said Fiona.

“If Ali’s new dive-aid is a success we may invest in similar devices for the other turtles,” she added.

“Attaching weights direct to the shell means keeping the turtle out of water long enough for the resin to dry.

“With a harness like this we can adjust or replace weights in a matter of seconds.”

Ali was rescued in the spring of 2002 at Palm Beach, and as well as a badly damaged shell was also discovered to be riddled with tumors.

In spite of his woes, Ali was such a feisty individual he was named after heavyweight boxing legend Mohammed Ali.

He and fellow casualties Sharky, Gumbo, Josie and Cracker were originally rescued by the Florida Turtle Hospital.

Staff there devised the weight system to restore their diving abilities, but were only able to watch the results from above…as their home was a converted swimming pool.

“It was not until we got them into our ocean tank with its big windows and underwater tunnel that we could see some of them were swimming at odd angles,” said Fiona.

“We have been regularly adjusting their weights ever since to try and correct their buoyancy.”

The fitting of Ali’s new belt coincides neatly with the launch of a major sea turtle conservation month at Sea Life centres across the UK.

Christened ‘Turtle Fest’ the event will highlight the growing threats to turtles from pollution, fishing bycatch and tourism development.

And it will raise funds to off-set the running costs of a new £250,000 Sea Turtle Rescue Centre on the Greek island of Zakynthos, built with donations from Sea Life visitors.

Turtle Fest’ runs from May 13th to June 2nd in most centres and also features special talks, quiz trails and childrens’ activities.