Monday, January 18, 2016

Mary's last update!

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By now, we are about ¾ of the way through the nesting season, and I thought I would update everyone on how the season is going!  We have had a busy season, with a total of 50 turtle encounters and 191 nests across 14 beaches.  176 nests are on the 6 main nesting beaches in the South of Mahe, with Anse Intendance having the most at 50 nests! Many of the earlier laid nest have hatched (the incubation time for the nests is around 2 months). We dig up as many hatched nests as we possibly can to count the number of egg shells and see the hatching/survival rate of the eggs.  Sometimes, eggs we find in the nest have stopped developing for some reason, likely because the nest was flooded at some point during incubation.  Occasionally, eggs don’t show any sign of development, which means the egg was probably an unfertilized egg when the turtle laid her eggs.
Collecting egg clutch survival data
This week, we had a familiar turtle visitor on Anse Intendance. 
The distinct track of the 3-legged turtle
This season, we’ve had a turtle that is missing her back left flipper nesting on Anse Intendance.  The injury appears very old and well healed. We think she either lost her flipper to a shark bite or from being entangled in a fishing line.  Because of her back stump, she leaves an interesting track mark in the sand when she emerges from the sea, so we have been able to tell when and where she has come up.
Hawksbill turtles lay 4-5 nests in a nesting period, and this is the three-legged turtle's third confirmed nest.  Usually, the turtles will emerge around every 14-20 days to lay a nest during the nesting season (Hawksbill turtle nesting season is October-February). Their reproductive cycle is every 2-3 years, so this turtle will likely return in 2017-2018.
Slowly but surely covering her nest!
Despite missing one of her back flippers that turtles use for digging, the turtle seems to have adjusted well to having only 3 legs and she has become one of our favorite turtles among the turtle patrol team.

Unique photo ID of the 3-legged turtle
This is my last blog post for MCSS, I’ll be leaving Seychelles next week.  I have had an amazing time here working with the sea turtles and amazing and dedicated conservationists! I hope I will come back and see all these turtles again one day!  Until then, Bon voyage!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sea Turtles versus Dogs

So now everyone should know that sea turtles are my favorite animals in the whole wide world........ but what some people don't know is that dogs are not at all on my list of favorites!! Recently we have had quite a few incidences (as in my last post) where dogs have been injuring Female sea turtles coming up the beach to nest.......... So I can confirm that Dogs will never make it to my favorite animals list unfortunately.
mostly injured around the 2 front flippers

Yesterday was an upsetting day as we had another Sea turtle versus Dog incident where it sadly ended fatally.. the poor turtle was found dead by the time we got there after brutal attacks from a pack of dogs from a house close to one of the beaches we monitor in the south of Mahe. It is clear that the nesting beaches would definitely be more safe for the sea turtles if it could become a temporary protected area at least during the nesting period and MCSS in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Veterinary services aims to reach that goal hopefully!

looks alive but sadly not!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Peak of the nesting season

Nesting Hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill turtle heading back safely
Halfway through the 2015-2016 Hawksbill nesting season........... it's been quite a busy one so far. This includes rushing in to work early morning and leaving the beach late in the afternoon....past normal working hours! But turtle encounters are top on our wishing list and  we are so happy that we've had 30 encounters so far in total on the main nesting beaches.

Poaching incidents have unfortunately been reported on a few occasions, but this past Sunday was a sad one as well as I was informed by the Greenline that we had an injured turtle on one of the South beaches, I didn't waste much time and drove straight down to attend to it. However when I got there the turtle had been helped back into the sea by a couple of tourist. The Hawksbill turtle was attacked by three dogs and all I found was a bloody trail heading back to sea left behind.
The bloody trail from the injured turtle

The journey begins
Our first nests are starting to hatch, we had our first one this morning which had approximately a total of 129 eggs and 40 of the little cuties were still trying to get out. Seeing that the nest had just been dug up by a dog, we immediately helped them to start their journey. It is hoped that the others had already left otherwise they could have sadly been easy prey for the dogs.

So the MCSS team remains on the look out for any turtle activities, patrolling the main nesting beaches almost everyday. For a quick update on the redeemed bottles.....we had almost R400 worth of bottles and cans which goes towards the MCSS funds....not an extreme effort..... all you need to do is care for the environment and simply love your job!

Mary helping to count the bottles 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The things we do for the environment!

Your egg chamber is too small!!
This week, I had three turtle encounters, one on Anse Corail and two on Anse Intendance.  The encounter on Anse Corail was a lucky encounter as we came across her nesting while we were just as we were patrolling the beach.  This turtle must have been desperate to lay her eggs: she dug 4 body pits before she started laying, and her eggs were overfilling her egg chamber!  We had to relocate 43 of her 168 eggs to keep her from accidently crushing them as she covered her nest.

The two encounters on Anse Intendance were thrilling.  I was the sole turtle researcher who was available to respond to the turtle call on Tuesday, as the other researchers were on another beach with a different turtle. A couple of tourists were very distressed when I raced down to the beach not knowing I was a researcher.  I thanked them later for that response; that is exactly how we want watchers on the beach to respond so that people will stay away from turtles on a beach.
The very next night, while I was at the hotel and waiting for guests to arrive for the Manager’s Cocktail hour, a turtle was spotted coming up the beach.  After getting my Trimble and measuring tape, I went to the beach to try to keep the guests low to the ground and behind the turtle.  The sight of the turtle and the setting sun over the water had attracted over 25 excited guests!  Many of them asked questions and were shocked to learn that sea turtles lay 150-200 ping-pong ball sized/shaped eggs in each nest and will nest about 4-5 times during a nesting season.  That’s between 600-1000 eggs in a season! (This turtle laid 156 that night.)
Nesting Hawksbill turtle
As the sun went down, most of the watchers went back to their villas, and I was left just with the stars and a turtle on the beach.  It was an amazing experience.
We had a French journalist named Therry visit MCSS this week.  He writes for a French magazine called QOA that covers eco-volunteerism, and Therry was interested in interviewing me and a couple other MCSS volunteers.  He asked me about how I heard about MCSS and what motivated me to volunteer in Seychelles.  I told him that I used MCSS as an example of science research teamed with ecotourism back when the whale shark monitoring project was working with a dive center in Mahe to offer encounters with whale sharks to both tourists and scientists.  From there, my interest in Seychelles grew, and when I learned about the turtle monitoring project, I jumped at the chance to volunteer.  Lynn and I walked through the wetlands with Therry, and he joined us on the turtle patrol for the day. The issue that the article will be published in should come out in early 2016.  The magazine is geared towards French speaking young adults as an effort to get them more interested in eco-volunteerism abroad.  To be a part of a movement of young people who are traveling and volunteering is exciting!

Cans & pet bottles pick up!!
Lastly for this post, for the past 4 weeks, Vanessa and I have been collecting cans and bottles from around Mahe.  Some of the beaches that we monitor on our turtle patrol were covered when we started collecting, and we’ve found many in the Intendance wetlands.  Collecting them has cleaned up these areas and kept plastic out of the ocean.  Cans and bottles can be redeemed at recycling centers in Seychelles for 25 cents each.  Looks like our collection will fetch 100 rupees at least! We’ll be turning them in next week, and I’ll share the final amount we got from them when we find out.

Our collection ready to be redeemed!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hawksbill Nesting Season 2015-2016

Turtle Monitoring has been ongoing throughout the year and yesterday was a normal patrolling day and collection of rubbish on Anse Grand Police was my main focus for the day……at least I thought so…… until I turned around and saw my first Hawksbill turtle for this season  emerging from the sea! I got so excited as it is the first time I had an encounter straight up to start the season…..for the past seasons I always started off by observing tracks on the beaches and the encounters would come later.

I got my volunteer for the day… Lara to believe that she was the lucky charm…. But I have to say…they don’t call me ‘Turtle Magnet’ for nothing!

Lara observing the turtle track after measuring
Anyway we quickly gathered our necessary tools for data collection on our first encounter and watched as the Turtle tried and succeeded in pulling herself up an almost one metre erosion cliff…..though her hard work….the dry vegetation behind made it impossible for her to find a nice spot to start her digging process, so unfortunately the emergence was recorded as an ESBO (Emergence Stopped By Obstacle)…… but we have high hopes that she will definitely be back for other trials and eventually succeed in laying her eggs.

Turtle trying very hard to get over the erosion cliff

 It is thus with great joy and enthusiasm that we declare the Hawksbill Nesting Season officially open!!
Turtle exiting the beach

Monday, June 1, 2015

Maddy’s Gift

It seems hardly possible but it is two years since Maddy Cole, a bubbly MCSS Intern, Underwater Centre Divemaster and newly certified PADI Scuba Instructor was tragically taken from us by a boating accident of Pulau Perhentian Island, Malaysia.
However, through the determination of her family and friends, Maddy stays with us and through a fund known as Maddy’s Gift, her love of marine life is being continued through such worthy projects as supporting the purchase of a portable x-ray machine for the Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre under MCSS and the Seychelles Veterinary Services.
To remember Maddy this 27th May, the second anniversary of her passing, the staff and volunteers of MCSS marked the day with a silent flower service on one of the turtle nesting beaches that she patrolled with us. 

Always in our hearts and thoughts….

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Its a green!

Another contribution from Kristina our MSc student...

You remember there was a huge green turtle track on Grand Police? Just about two weeks later we had another one coming up; and this one did lay!! =) Plus, someone already saw the body pit and marked the area as a turtle nest. So generous that someone should put palm leaves around the body pit and hang a paper on one pillar of the shelter to warn that there is a nest. In fact, this was really good because it might make people more careful around the area but it does also mark the body pit as the nest instead of the actual nest. So, if some stupid people would decide to try and dig for eggs of harm the nest otherwise, they would only find sand. And maybe some crabs =) 
 Nicely marked sign for the turtle nest

The tracks were still visible and to be honest, the up- and the down-track were super close. The turtle must have just come up, dug and gone straight back down. Per se, this sounds logical and I didn’t really think that it was weird. BUT: greens are not hawksbills. That’s what I learned that day. Usually, green turtles will walk quite some way on the beach, make a lot of body pits, dig the nest, camouflage it really good, make another body pit and then go back down leaving a huge mess behind. This is why Vanessa first thought that she did not lay. But in the end it seemed very likely and we think that the nest is just next to the body pit (on that image above it would be to the left under the shelter). The sand showed all the characteristics; it was loose and looked like it has been recently moved.
The green turtle tracks, obscured by lots of human footprints

Can you make out the tracks on the picture? They are still visible. We assumed that the turtle came up one to two days prior to our patrol because they are visible but clearly not fresh anymore and there were a lot of human tracks around and over it. If tracks are quite fresh, it also helps to look where they start because that will be the water line at the time of emergence/exit. Then you can compare that with the current tide line and the tide table to get a rough time of emergence.