Monday, December 17, 2018

Blue Economy Internship students

It is with great pleasure that we have been hosting two students from the Blue Economy Internship Programme, who are both showing great interest in the work that we do, especially at the Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre where they are based. In the following blogs they share their experiences so far:

My first week at MCSS...

Hello! My name is Johnise Philoe, I’m 17 years old (well until next week), I live at Baie Lazare and I’m a Blue Economy intern with MCSS that is situated at the Banyan Tree Resort’s Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre. Being there for 2weeks will and is allowing me to experience, widen my knowledge and develop my skills towards the conservation and rehabilitation of Seychelles’ terrapins ( i.e. the yellow bellied and the black mud turtle species, also known as ‘Torti soupap’ in creole) and the different types of sea turtles ( but mostly about the hawksbill and green turtles since they are the only species which nests on the many beaches of the Seychelles).
 Stephie, Simi(volunteer) and Johnise with nesting turtle

Even though my first week of working at the Centre is almost over, there has been joyful, memorable, collective and even tiring moments, and lets just say that there are still more to come. These are some reasons as to why I wake up every morning to attend my working days there. 
Johnise measuring tracks

tagging a nest

My name is Stephie Dubel, I am 16 years old. And currently interning at MCSS (Marine Conservation Society Seychelles) on the south Mahe projects, is located at Banyan Tree.

It's been a week already since I've been working at the MCSS and throughout this week I managed to mastered as many as I could about Wildlife Conservation and the projects that are ongoing at the MCSS.
I've learnt that there's only two species of Terrapins in Seychelles! They are the Black mud Terrapin and Yellow -bellied Terrapin. Apparently I was told by the Animal welfare officer at MCSS Mr Max Bonfatti that these little creatures are critically endangered species facing a numerous threats through residential and commercial development, invasive spices and diseases, pollution and so on.

During this first week of interning I also learnt how to do the trapping which is very easy! In the afternoon you just put the traps in some different pond sites along with some bait in it and every morning we went by each of the pond sites to check if there's any Terrapins trapped inside. This is usually done twice daily.
The Terrapins that are caught in the traps are taken to the centre were they get measured and weighed later they get released back to the pond.

Furthermore, we also do daily patrol.
This is normally done in the morning. We use a Trimble to record any necessary data for example if we encounter a sea turtle nesting!
collecting encounter data on a nesting turtle

To my knowledge I was told that whenever you encounter a turtle nesting its better to stand behind  her rather than in front of her because, she might get stressed or feel threatened and return to the ocean if she notices your presence.

So far I am enjoying my experience. It's amazing how much I have come to learn in just one week. And I strongly believe that MCSS I doing a great job.
seeing off their first turtle encounter with  MCSS

Monday, December 3, 2018


-Get a bruise from a tortoise “running” into you 
Anna chatting with Armando

-Apply nail polish on a terrapin 
Terrapin spa!

-Hover in the bushes like a military, to count turtle eggs 
observing a nesting turtle

Let’s start from the beginning. We are Astrid and Anna, from Sweden and Germany. As we wanted to work with turtles, we were placed at the Conservation Centre at Banyan Tree resort. The staff here monitors the terrapin population in the wetlands around the resort, track turtles and takes care of six giant tortoises.

Right on our first day we fell in love with the gentle giants here at the conservation centre. Four of the tortoises were donated by their previous owners as they were not able to take good care of them while the other two had to be bought after some generous donations in the effort to rescue them. Daily duties are feeding them, cleaning the pond, and take away poo to the composter. We always imagined reptiles as independent animals, but these tortoises love to get a scratch. They are trying to get your attention so you pet them. But beware to never stand between a tortoise and her food- she can cause lovely bruises by “running” into you. Still we can’t stop gazing at these amazing animals.

The next day we went on terrapin tracking. We were lucky that there were two terrapins in our first trap. We have noticed it is not so common to find them in the traps.  What we usually do when finding a terrapin, is taking them to the centre to measure and weight them. We use the data to keep track on their health of the population, if they change ponds, and to understand terrapins behaviour better. Oh, and by the way, the nail polish is to mark them.

The first week went by, many things happened and we learned a lot. We did bird-surveys, beach-patrols to look for turtle tracks and nests, and we were cleaning coral tanks.

Then Friday came along (our favourite day so far). We were doing turtle-patrols on five different beaches. Quick summary of how we do that: Walk along the beach. Look for tracks. If we find one, we measure it to find out how big and what kind of sea turtle it was. Hawksbill and green turtles are nesting at the beaches here.
with their first turtle track
 Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered, and the green turtles are endangered. So, it is important that their nests are in good places, and that tourists and dogs for example don’t scare them away. When we got back to the office after the beach-patrols we got a call from someone that saw a turtle on the beach. In order to measure her and count the eggs, we hovered in the bushes behind her. That was one of our best nature experiences ever, as we never thought we would be so close to a turtle in such an intimate situation. When she was finished, we took ID-photos of her which we compare to previous taken pictures at the office. We think doing this is very exciting, in contrast to previous volunteers apparently.  (Vanessa knows how much we love it.) That’s how we keep track of the turtles.
I3S fanatics!

Now we are at the end of our second week. We are staying here one month. We already know that we’re going to miss the turtles, tortoises, terrapins and the lovely colleges. So, we are just trying to take in every moment and enjoy our stay here as much as possible. 
selfies while waiting on a nesting turtle

Astrid and Anna, volunteers November 2018. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Plastic Debris and 'Microplastics' Monitoring

While doing monitoring and assessment activities in the Grand Police area, we noticed something in the beach sand that we haven’t noticed at any of the other beaches around Mahé: many small pieces of broken up plastic. Though there is no as yet global standardised size, these plastic fragments are referred to based on their size, generally; macroplastics if they are larger than 25 mm, mesoplastics if they are between 5 mm and 25 mm, and microplastics if they are smaller than 5 mm. Plastic fragments such as these represent one of the lesser understood, yet seriously concerning, impacts that marine debris has on the health of our oceans and us.

While primary microplastics enter waterways and eventually the oceans in a micro size, secondary microplastics – such as the ones that are washed up on Grand Police beach – are the result of larger plastic debris in the ocean (eg. plastic bottles) breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces due to factors such as the movement of the waves and the sun’s rays. But it doesn’t end there. As they continue to fragment into ever smaller pieces, they absorb organic pollutants and toxins in the seawater like a sponge, and are then often mistaken for food and ingested by marine life. Accumulation of this kind of marine debris in the gut of various species can cause them to die of starvation. Little yet has been confirmed about the impacts that this may have on the health of humans, but it is possible that the chemical contaminants in the gut of fish species may be released from the gut wall into other tissues, which are then consumed by humans.  

It is undeniable that the ultimate measure to stop this problem from getting any worse is to stop plastic debris from entering our oceans altogether. However, until that can be achieved, we have to monitor and measure these plastic fragments washing up on the beach in order to try understand the scale of the problem and how best to manage it – “what gets measured, gets managed”. We do this by using sieves of two different mesh sizes to sift the sand along the strand line at a certain area on the beach. We then take the collected fragments back to our offices where we carefully measure and quantify them. Meticulous work it is!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Green turtle action day!

Following from the last blog update...we are still waiting for the first Hawksbill turtle encounter..... meanwhile, we have some Green turtle actions going on!
We recorded another green turtle track but it didn't appear that she laid. We moved on to another beach and I was alerted by Harm that he had found indeed it was a great find! There was a Green turtle nest hatching, so we got our gloves out and started helping the little hatchlings to go down the beach. We set them off in front of the vegetation to prevent them from getting caught up in the tall grass and beach morning glory plant and they could then make their way easily to sea.
Harm and Kitty observing the hatchlings
out they come!

We then collected the egg clutch survival data....and it was a stinky nest as there were a few rotten eggs and unfortunately some dead hatchlings in the nest.
Nonetheless, the patrol has been an interesting one and there were smiling faces all around!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Awaiting the first hawksbill turtle encounter!

As we patiently wait for our first turtle is a new blog from my main patrol partner for most of the 2018-2019 nesting season...…..

Hello as this is my first blog I thought it would be good to introduce myself first, Im Harm a 22 yr old student from The Netherlands. For my bachelors in environmental science I decided to do my Internship with MCSS for the Temporal Protected Areas project dealing mostly with sea turtle conservation, which is my main interest and thats where my stay and these blogs will focus on.
measuring a green turtle track (Harm(left) and Jorge)

I arrived a little over a month ago and am still waiting for my first, so elusive, turtle sighting. When I found my first tracks on the beach I was filled with satisfaction, the same happened with my first nest yet a turtle has not been within my grasps just yet.
recording data on the Trimble
Every other workday we scout the beaches in what we call Beach Monitoring, We monitor the following beaches extensively: Grand Police, Petite Police, Intendance, Bazarca, Corail and Chachee. Most of these are well known turtle hotspots and need regular monitoring to search for any possible new nest or tracks.
Anse Capucin beach

The Seychelles host the nesting of two different types of sea turtles; The Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, and the Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata. The Green turtle nests throughout the year but the Hawksbill only in nesting season, lucky for me my internship is right at the beginning of the season. Finding the first signs of Hawksbill turtles proved harder than expected, as it took almost two weeks longer than speculated. However, with the first sight of the tracks of the hawksbill followed the first nests. Some of these dating back already a 20 days ago and with the hatching starting approximately 65 days after nesting, its only a few more weeks away before I can hopefully
see the wonders of nature as the hatchlings find their way to the water.
the patrol team

Till then, have a nice day and keep saving the planet one step at a time,

Harm v.Z.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nesting turtles & enthusiastic volunteers!

It's been pretty quiet with the turtles in the south and patrols have mostly consisted of collection of rubbish on the main nesting beaches and a few Green turtle tracks here and there, but everyone is now patiently waiting for the appearance of the first Hawksbill turtle to officially announce the nesting season open... we look forward for the first tracks or even better...the first encounter! We have quite a few enthusiastic volunteers and interns around... Kitty shares her axperiences so far....

Kitty(left) & Jenny
My name is Kitty Daniels and I’m taking a year out between college and university to learn more about Marine Conservation. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre at the start of this week to join Vanessa’s turtle monitoring project. I started off with a ‘Turtle Season Briefing’ which outlined what to do when I find a turtle nest, and how to collect the relevant data for the project. As it is only the beginning of the nesting season, we have not spotted  many signs of turtle nesting, but today we found green sea turtle tracks on Anse Grand Police, which is exiting because Green Turtles are not common in this part of the Seychelles. I have also helped with Beach Profiling, which is a monthly survey to monitor the sand movement on the beach in relation to the nesting platform for the turtles. So far this has just involved desk-based data entry, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck in on the beach! I have also taken part in the Banyan Tree Hotel’s ‘Management Cocktails’, which didn’t involve any cocktails for me, but I was able to speak to the guests about the upcoming nesting season, and to promote the centre and offer tours of the facilities. I’m very much looking forward to the next three months  I will spend here and for turtle season to really get underway!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Alexandra shares her experiences with different MCSS projects

My name is Alexandra McCallum, I’m a 21 year old student from Canada and for the past four weeks I’ve been volunteering with MCSS to acquire a feel for the field of conservation biology. I spent my first two weeks in the North on the Coral Reef Restoration project at Fisherman’s Cove and then moved South to work on the Banyan Tree Terrapin project. Since having been at the Banyan Tree, I have been able to see many of the tasks at hand and got a feel for the work that is done here. I arrived in the South on a Monday afternoon, where I got to meet everyone working on the project and was shown around the facilities a bit. I then officially started on the Tuesday and already had a bunch to do on my first day, which I was very excited about! I went out with the team to check for terrapins in the traps located at different pond sites, as well as add bait to the traps. This is done in the morning and in the afternoon (at 9am and at 2:30pm). However, we did not find any terrapins that morning. Following the trapping, we joined Vanessa who was removing Water Hyacinths, an invasive plant species that take up vital living space for the terrapins.

pulling out the water hyacinths

This took us the rest of the morning as there were a lot to remove! After lunch, I went to go check out the Giant Tortoises, which are held in an enclosure behind the offices. They were extremely gentle and loved to be pet. One even tried to climb out of the water onto the rock I was sitting on just to get a bit of affection! At 2:30,we went out again to check the traps and found a terrapin!

cute baby terrapin!

 I was very excited to have gotten to see one on my first day as I did not expect this to be a common occurrence. Once back, I watched how Rebecca and Megan measured and tagged the terrapins and put them into the rehabilitation jacuzzis, where they stay until they are released back into their respective pond sites the next day. It was about 4pm by then so everyone started to gather their things and head home. 

turtle monitoring team

The following day, I came in expecting to do the exact same thing but in fact it was quite different. I went with Vanessa to do beach patrolling for turtle tracks and nests. 

beach patrol on Anse Grand Police
beach clean up!

We also brought garbage bags along to pick up trash along the beaches. We spotted green turtle tracks and a new nest that had been made the day before,it was really cool to see! One thing that really surprised me however was the amount of trash along the beach.We picked up 2 garbage bags full of flip flops, plastic bottles, glass and just waste left behind or brought in with the tide.We patrolled several beaches, including some surrounded by lush forests, and were all really beautiful. Once we got back, I shadowed Evita as she gave a tour to some of the hotel guests,so that I would also be able to give tours of the premises when needed. The next two weeks followed the same outline but remained really interesting. One day we even caught seven terrapins! Overall, this has been a great learning experience for me and I highly recommend taking part in these projects, as you are guaranteed to always find something to do!