Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My First Encounter!

We were just arriving at the Banyan Tree Hotel for our well-deserved lunch break. Making ourselves clean and thus ready to go for lunch, Vanessa had a look on to the beach and saw a turtle track. Per se, nothing really special for us since there were still quite a few tracks on the beaches during patrol. BUT: she followed the tracks thinking they look new and guess who was still on the beach? That’s right; a female hawksbill turtle getting ready to lay! When she came back and told me, I started screaming and not just any screaming but a really loud high-pitch screaming because it was so awesome I couldn’t believe it, my first turtle :-) Everything got light and I just wanted to run to her and have a look which would of course be the worst thing to do.

 While Vanessa informed Rachel and Imogen (from the Banyan Tree Conservation Centre who are the ones responsible for patrolling this beach), I tried to calm myself! We moved in closer to see her, staying at a point where she wouldn’t notice us observing her while she was doing a body pit. When two tourists arrived from the opposite side, Vanessa started waving like crazy and did the quietest half-jumping I’ve ever seen trying to get the tourists to stop. She gestured like a madman, but the tourists understood (‘though still looking confused) and went further down the beach towards the water. Then they came over to us wondering what was going on and finally saw the turtle. It’s crucial at this point that the turtle doesn’t notice us since she could feel threatened and just go back into the water without laying! Sooo, that explains the madness :-o And it had to be repeated quite a few times as  more and more tourists were walking along the beach, not knowing that they might cause the turtle to go back to the water if they came too close. This spectacle of course made everyone really interested and a huge group of people formed behind the female who was still trying to find the right spot. At one point she started moving and I thought “Oh my gosh, will she go now? Have we been too noisy behind her or has someone been in her field of vision? Is this it?”, but luckily it seemed that she was just not satisfied with the place. Maybe there were too many roots or some rocks in the sand. 

When she arrived at a second place, it got critical. She had started digging right on top of two other nests! If she dug in the wrong place, she would destroy the nests and dig the earlier eggs right out!! I started praying “Please do not destroy the other nests. You wouldn’t want that for yours neither. Please let the eggs be.....”. And it seemed to work. The turtle stayed above the two nest, dug the egg chamber and reeeeally took her time. 
Kristina counting eggs with the turtle laying between two other nest markers!
She was sooooo slow and took lots of breaks. It clearly was exhausting for her. This gave the chance for more tourists to come join the crowd and ask lots of questions that we were happy to answer. Especially the kids were really excited thus reflecting my inner state :-) And all the time, we just saw her back while she was digging, and digging, and digging. And all the time I was thinking “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, I wanna see your cheeks. Show me your cheeks. I wanna see your cheeks and see if I can recognize you!” which of course didn’t make her turn and come to me to show me her cheeks :-(  I was almost going nuts of wanting to know if we had seen her before or not. There was some white colour on the back of the carapace which I thought I had seen on one of the pictures I had. But I kept on saying to myself that it’s gonna be fine and I’ll see it eventually. 

Then when Imogen then asked if I want to count the eggs, I got even more excited and it seemed the kids would also have liked that! We slowly made our way closer to the turtle and once she stopped digging and prepared herself to lay, Vanessa and I got some more sand out of the way to enable a clear view of the eggs. I was laying flat on the sand counting eggs slowly coming out mostly one by one. Sometimes there were two or three coming out at once. While the turtle got into a trance-like state and Vanessa took pictures for later identification, I got pretty trance-like myself counting. 

At some point I got so covered in ants that I woke from my trance and tried to get rid of them while not losing sight of the eggs and I realized that everyone but me could now already see the cheeks. I was hallucinating already imagining how they could look like, seeing matched pictures in my software getting all excited of a possible re-encounter (hopefully between years as this means more data to investigate interesting periods). Besides all this, I noticed some of the tourists talking in German about the eggs, so I just jumped in and told them in German how many there were so far and a boy tried to count from where he was starting with that. After the turtle finished laying, she took all the time in the world to safely cover up the nest with sand. She did a good job and made sure both of the previous nests were nicely covered up as well (‘though I’m sure that was not intended :-). 

Sooooo, I still couldn’t see her cheeks which frustrated me, but I did not want to get into her vision now that she awoke from her trance. However, I used the chance to check the photographs that Vanessa had taken to see if they were good enough for identification. It could well be the case that there was a lot of sand on the turtle’s cheeks or that there was some reflection which would decrease the software’s ability to match the individual. The pictures were okay to use and I got a first cheek-glimpse that way :-) 

Nearly perfect ID photos of the left and right sides!
But still not the real ones… Then again, I did not have that much time to think about this since the German tourists realized that I am German as well and started asking a bunch of new questions and I was happy to explain. The boy who was so into counting the eggs before almost got upset realizing that the small ones would never know who their father was and that their mummy would not come back for them. 

Once hatched, the little turtles will have to find their own way. They won’t recognize any family members, but the females of them will know how to come back to this exact same beach for nesting. It really upset him and got him thinking which was so moving and sad in way, but this is how it works. Finally, the turtle was done recovering the nest and slowly, slowly made her way back into the ocean. While she was crawling back to the sea, I finally could get a look at both her cheeks and….recognized her!! That turtle really made my day. Not only was she the first encounter since I am here, but she also was in the data-base!! :-)     

Goodbye Interns, Hello Kristina!

The French interns have left and so now I will be taking over this blog, muhahaha : I’m Kristina and I will be here for the next couple of months writing my master thesis. What  will I be doing? Great that you ask! I will develop a photo-ID catalogue for the hawksbill turtles here on Mahe using the software I3S Pattern (it is similar to the one they use for whale sharks and works okay so far). Since it hasn’t been evaluated for turtles, my job is to test the software and see how good it performs:-) 
Anais (right) and Kristina (left) digging up the nest.

Some of you might miss the French interns writing here, so here’s a last post including one of them. It happened a couple of weeks back on my first patrol ever here. On the first step of the first beach of my first patrol, we happened to come across a nest right at the entry of the beach. 

There were quite a few dead hatchlings dug up BUT there also were a lot of them left alive. They did not look the best and were dehydrated. Usually, we do not help hatchlings because it is important that they imprint on that beach in order to be able to come back. However, these hatchlings really needed some help. We decided to help them out and leave them to try and make their way. Anaïs and me, we were digging up the nest and helping them to get out of the nest. After a while that they have been trying (or well, not really) Vanessa took them closer to the sea and watered them. From then on, they were able to make it and once in water, they seemed happy and were much more active :-) 

Hope you enjoyed a last French contribution; stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Little French Flavour!

Hello dear Fans of the turtle we are the new intern turtle monitoring team with a French style for a new nesting season!

We are the new volunteers to study the turtle with MCSS until February. Every day with Vanessa, we patrol on South Mahe Island beaches to find tracks and if we are lucky encounter turtle or hatching babies. 

This year MCSS decided to intensify the patrol to fight against the turtle poachers. Indeed, eating turtle is an old Christmas tradition for the Seychellois....... one tradition that MCSS is working hard to eliminate due to the continued decrease in turtle population.

Yesterday we were patrolling at Anse Cachée when we bumped into a laying Hawksbill turtle. While Anaïs was monitoring her, Vanessa and Hubert had been warned by the care taker of the property that there was a turtle in distress in the bushes. Running to rescue the poor animal, they found her turned upside down under a pile of coconut palm leaves. It is a method used by the poacher to avoid the turtle to escape when they wanted to kill her later and stay out of the people’s view. 
 The turtle turned upside down under the palm leaves 
The turtle was so weak, the team had to turn her over and carry her close to the beach. In the action, we saw a solid string attached to her back flipper. According to the tracks on the beach, we then understood the poachers had dragged her from the beach to the bushes by using the string. 

We dropped off the turtle next to the water and let her find the liberty again. We were all pleased to see the turtle swimming and really happy to have rescued her. 
Finally free!
It is not sure she will come back to lay on this beach again due to the amount of stress she has encountered on this trial …

Fortunately, it is the second time we rescued a turtle and hopefully, MCSS can count on people such as beach police and any friends of the turtles out there to keep an extra eye on the turtles during the nesting season and inform us on any harm brought to the turtles so that the situation can be dealt with promptly. 
Vanessa, Aurélia, Hubert and Anaïs rescuing the first poached turtle at Anse Corail the 9th December 

See you later for new adventure !

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nesting season 2014-2015

Another season filled with much excitement, enthusiasm but some heartbreaking moments as well. Tracks, nests and encounters....... these are all I have in mind whenever we are going out for the turtle walks! ....... This is every day except for the weekends. The numbers of patrols have increased as we have now included Tuesdays and Thursdays for anti – poaching patrols. This was decided a must after recording such a significant number of poaching incidents in the South of the island.

So much happening in so little time...... one day we save a turtle which was left upside down by poachers for later collection..... but we got there first.........
                             .......... and make it to the papers!

Then the next few days we find this........
 Too late this time......poachers win again!
We have had some really great moments as well, the little ones are coming out and you can imagine our excitement especially while finding this........   A little loner while digging up a nest for the egg clutch survival data....fortunately it was still full of life and managed to make it’s imprints on the beach before successfully entering the sea.
....... Good luck little one!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

New Turtle & Terrapin Project

We just thought you might like to know about a new project the MCSS team is undertaking with the Banyan Tree hotel which besides monitoring turtles and terrapins will be setting up a rehabilitation facility for them....You can find out all about it on our new project blog.

Wildlife Vets International are supporting the development of the Turtle and Terrapin Rehabilitation Facility at the Banyan Tree Resort. They are hoping to generate funds through the "Big Give Christmas Challenge" which allows matching funds of up to $4000 from the organisers! They are including our project in their wildlife vet development project in Seychelles and Mauritius which was mainly focused on birds so expanding to turtles and terrapins is a good move! So Please do visit their information page, watch the video and make a donation as whatever you donate will be matched by the Big Give!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Join whale shark intern Amber on a special day turtle monitoring with the MCSS team...

Having your day off fall on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday is always something to look forward too. It means that you have the option to spend the day with Vanessa (Madanm Torti) and walk some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen looking for turtle tracks and nests. You may even get to witness a turtle digging and laying its’ eggs. 

Last Wednesday started off as your typical beach clean-up day on Grande Police removing debris and low hanging vegetation to allow space for the turtles to nest. After two hours of cleaning a good size area, we walked the rest of the beach and found some turtle tracks. We then walked Petite Police, but did not see any tracks. Our next stop was Bazarca. As we walked along, Vanessa just stopped, sat down the turtle bag and started pulling out the clipboard and GPS. I saw the tracks so I just assumed that’s what we were looking at. I started writing on the clipboard and when I got down the next section on nest information, Vanessa said the Hawksbill turtle had laid eggs. We all looked up and asked her how she knew it laid. She told us that we were looking right at the nest. She put her hand in the mound of sand with vines and coconuts on top and said this is it. Well that turtle definitely fooled me! 
 Vanessa starts excavating the nest...
The nest was right at the high tide line so we had to work fast to move the nest further up the beach. Vanessa, Sophie and I started digging very quickly and gently while Freya ran to the car to get supplies. Once Sophie found the eggs, Freya and I started digging a nest further up the beach above the eroded bank which inhibited the turtle from digging farther up the beach. Sophie and Vanessa laid the eggs under an umbrella in the order they came out of the nest. Once all 149 eggs we removed, we started an assembly line to quickly get the eggs reburied in the order they had come out of the previous nest. 
 Gently removing the eggs from the doomed nest...
Then lining them up in the shade ready to re-locate...
There are no words to describe how precious and rewarding that moment was to me. Holding those precious lives in your hands just makes you appreciate life more yourself. I have several friends and a room-mate  that work for the Broward County Sea Turtle Program back in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I’ve always listened to them talk about what they do at work. Digging in the sand with your bare hands, placing all the eggs in the nest and then covering it back up and camouflaging the nest gives you a sense of attachment to it. It was nice to get to finally experience that firsthand.  Vanessa said that that is our nest and she will keep us posted on it and let us know when it has hatched. 
And then finally placing them in a new safe nest!
A special thanks to Vanessa and the MCSS team for allowing us the opportunity to participate in these types of activities and gain the hands on experience that will help us move forward as we pursue careers in marine biology and other related fields. 
...Amber Metallo

Sunday, September 7, 2014

YES we are still here!!

David has at last found the password to get back on to the blog so some long over-due posts can now be put up... for those of you who wondered where we were our apologies, it has been a very busy year! But enough of this and on to the important stuff starting with this report from Vanessa and the turtle team!

Turtle Season 2013-2014

It’s been a productive turtle season and I’ve gained so much knowledge about the beautiful sea turtles and even got the chance to share the knowledge with volunteers and interested tourists, which was fun. I’ve had a lot of turtle encounters, once I even had 3 turtles come up together…… it was crazy……. But I managed to share myself among them and gather some info on each……… I’m nicknamed the Turtle Magnet at the office now!!!
Me with my first turtle encounter at Anse Intendance….. I was over the moon!!
The patrols during the peak season were really hectic but I enjoyed every minute of it and got excited by every track found or a simple indication that the turtles were around!!  So you can imagine how I got when a turtle was encountered…… but no worries…… I kept myself under control and in line with the sea turtle monitoring protocol!!
The beginning of the long nesting session!!

So now we are out of the peak season and I’m mostly concentrated on the Egg Clutch Survival data……. I must admit……. Digging up nest is not for the faint-hearted!! …………it gets really smelly and disgusting sometimes due to rotten eggs!! But the thrill of finding a few hatchlings, left behind and really tired unfortunately …… helping them find their way a little bit was really emotional….. it is important to note though that Hatchlings should be left to find their own way to the sea as it is essential for their survival and so as to have a good sense of direction, especially for the females so that they can come back to nest one day, but giving a little hand is essential when the Hatchlings seem weak.!!

Pete, Harriet and Dan digging up a nest on Anse Grand Police
It’s been an amazing journey so far ………patiently waiting for the peak of the next turtle season!!