Friday, November 10, 2017

Will comes to the end with MCSS

Today is unfortunately my final day with MCSS. Over the last 4 weeks I have had the pleasure and absolute privilege to have input on several conservation projects including bird and terrapin monitoring, the new giant tortoise rehabilitation programme and of course my favourite: turtle monitoring. I have spent my mornings walking along some of the world's most beautiful beaches on the lookout for turtle tracks and nests, and my afternoons surveying their profiles for changes in sand gradient using both traditional and more modern drone-based techniques. It feels great to pass on GIS and computer mapping knowledge I have learnt at university and apply it to a real-world charity that does such important work.

I was fortunate enough to see a nesting turtle on my very first day with MCSS. Today, on my final turtle patrol, the island was kind enough to round off my trip by giving me another encounter. Whilst walking the far end of Anse Bazarca, eyes fixed on the high tide line for any sign of activity, I glanced up to the other end to see Vanessa waving her arms frantically in the air, a sight I always pray to see as it can only mean one thing - an actively nesting turtle!
within centimeters of a tourist!

Unfortunately, this turtle had chosen a rather poor spot to try and nest, along an open path area linking the beach and road. It had tried to dig a couple of pits but the sand was too compact and shallow. Its proximity to the road had also drawn a small crowd of tourists. It is at this point I feel obliged to mention the turtle watchers code of conduct once more. It is imperative that when encountering a sea turtle, you stay out of its line of sight, as still and quiet as possible and to give the creature plenty of space. Of course as tourists we want to capture videos and pictures to record this special moment, but this can't come at the expense of such a vital and delicate process. Turtle numbers are in decline and only ~1% of hatchlings reach adulthood, so it is of the utmost importance that we have as many undisturbed nestings as possible.

Whilst the crowd of people on this occasion were not overly disruptive, the poor location of the site forced this female to abandon its nesting attempt and return to the ocean. During its return crawl Vanessa and I were able to quickly approach and gather important size and head I.D. data, though because the turtle has not laid this can be mildly distressing, so can only be done by those trained to do so. She then glided swiftly back into the rolling waves, disappearing into the great blue. Hopefully on her return within the next few days she will find a suitably peaceful and appropriate spot to lay her precious cargo.
managed to exit the beach safely
I am incredibly sad to be leaving MCSS as I have made memories that will last a lifetime in what felt like such a short period of time. To witness a nesting turtle has forever been a dream of mine and to have fulfilled this at such a young age feels incredibly special. An encounter on my first and last day is a truly wonderful welcome and farewell to the Seychelles. Please take care of the islands and our oceans and continue to support charities like MCSS doing such honourable work.
Many thanks to all,
I will be back one day.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Will...the guy with the lucky charm!

Since the beginning of the turtle nesting season, no turtles had been encountered yet...but turns out Will our newest volunteer had the lucky charm, on his first patrol...the first encounter was also recorded!
Below is his description of his experiences so far.....
First day on patrol
My name is Will, I am 22 and from England. Having just graduated from university with a BSc in geography I was ready to go out and use my acquired skills to help the world, which was when I applied to be a volunteer at MCSS. I have been in the beautiful nation of the Seychelles for just over a week now, working with MCSS at their Banyan Tree Resort conservation centre in the south of Mahe.

Among other things, I am largely involved in the sea turtle monitoring programme. This consists of morning patrols along some of the main nesting beaches here in the south of Mahe, where the critically endangered hawksbill turtle comes to lay eggs. The Seychelles is one of only two places in the world where the hawksbill nests during the day, whilst other species nest at night - including the green turtle, which also nests locally.
First turtle for the season
During a patrol we are looking for distinctive tracks in the sand where a turtle has hauled itself up the beach and beyond the high tide line to dig a body pit, lay eggs and then re-cover and camouflage the site before returning to the sea. Track widths are measured as an indication of the turtle’s size and the nest is GPS recorded for future monitoring.
If we are lucky (as I was on only my first day!), we may find a turtle mid-way through nesting. During this time it is very important to abide by the ‘turtle watchers code of practice’ so as not to disrupt such a delicate and vital process. Namely this involves: approaching from behind, moving slowly and staying quiet, maintaining a respectful distance and not surrounding or trapping the turtle in anyway, giving it a clear path to the sea at all times. Once the turtle has begun laying, we approach to collect data on the size of the carapace (shell top) and check the animal for any tags or damage. Photos are taken of both sides of the head, where a unique layout of scales acts as the ‘fingerprint’ of the turtle, allowing us to individually identify it in a computer database.

We have also recently begun using drones to patrol some of the more inaccessible beaches, particularly on the lookout for poachers. Unfortunately, poaching of sea turtles is still a major global issue, despite their internationally protected status and even here in the island paradises of the Seychelles. To think how someone could murder such a beautiful, innocent and defenceless creature is completely beyond me.
second encounter on Anse Bazarca
Sea turtle monitoring programmes here and around the world are of great importance if we are to conserve these critically endangered animals, whose populations continue to decline, mostly due to our own shortcomings - poaching, pollution, over-development and habitat destruction. The threat of global climate change will also continue to hamper turtle populations as sea levels rise, drowning previously viable nesting sites and raising beach temperatures, which are believed to be causing an imbalance in gender ratios (turtle hatchling sex is determined by temperature in the nest, with temperatures above ~29C resulting in females and below in males). Moreover, there is likely to be more adverse effects not yet accounted for or understood - e.g. This season has been especially slow to start, with only half the number of turtle nests recorded compared to the same time in the previous few years.
off she goes!
I feel extremely fortunate to take part in this important work and to witness a nesting turtle on my first day and again on my fifth. To sit next to and closely watch such an incredibly beautiful, graceful and endangered animal is a true privilege, providing memories I shall cherish forever.
I can only hope that our work and that of the global conservation community is enough to ensure the survival of this prehistoric creature long into the future. These environments and the species that occupy them are so stunning, but also so fragile, we cannot afford to take them for granted or we will lose vital keystones in the ecosystem and indeed essential elements that make living on Earth such a pleasure. 

she drew in a crowd for sure!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Beach cleaning and clearing of nesting sites

As usual, the Turtle monitoring team gives Mother Nature a helping hand with the nesting turtles being the main beneficiaries.
Special Forces Unit & MCSS team
This year we got the special help of a group of tough guys from the Special Forces Unit, though not present on site today, all of this was possible through the great organisation and corporation of Major Archil Mondon who put the team together.
As most of the nesting beaches are usually cleaned often by some cleaning agencies, though some r rubbish was still collected, the main focus was on the removal of natural debris like dried up vegetation to allow easy access through the vegetation especially for the nesting Hawksbill turtles.

Removal of natural debris
MCSS girls clearing vegetation
Usually the Hawksbill turtles start making an appearance during September but so far it is still very quiet and only one set of tracks was seen along with a nest on one of the nesting beaches.... nonetheless we're keeping our fingers crossed in hope of encountering our first nesting turtle for the season and though obviously the nesting season is starting a bit later than usual, we are hopeful that eventually we will have a productive season in general.

Selfie time ...Team MCSS

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hawksbill turtle nesting season 2017-2018

For the past nesting seasons, the females would usually start nesting during the early weeks of September before the season reaches its peak October to January...however up to date we haven't had any encounters nor an identification of tracks on the beach yet.

The big team monitoring the beach
However, we will not give up hope and the MCSS continues to monitor the beaches twice a week and gradually increase to three  times a week once the season is in full swing.
Most of our effort now is into beach cleaning and rubbish is collected whenever we go for the beach patrols.
Collecting rubbish on Anse Grand Police
As Hawksbill mostly prefer nesting in the vegetation line we will soon be having a beach clearing event to clear the nesting grounds for the turtles and get some exterior help to conduct this along with the big team of volunteer, interns and staff of MCSS. The intention is to simply remove natural debris like dry branches to allow the turtle to easily penetrate through the vegetation and thus increase the probability of successful nesting.
Anse Bazarca where clearing of nesting ground is needed
Hopefully we will come back with a more interesting blog soon with the announcement of the nesting season being officially open as we start having encounters and tracks on the now deserted beaches!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Currently I am half way through my second week working with MCSS. I heard about the project in UK throughs the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Climate and Energy. I am a student at the University of East Anglia studying International Development with a focus on natural resources. I understand that most people who take internships here at MCSS come from a biological background, however I am interested more broadly in the cross over between development and conservation. Through participating in conservation, I can better understand conservation management and the interface between conservation and community development.
Therefore, I chose to take an internship with the Temporal Protected Areas (TPA) project. The TPA project is trying to develop areas that can be enforced as a protected area during the turtle nesting season. This is providing the opportunity to see how real ‘cutting-edge’ conservation is being conducted in one of Earths most precious biodiversity ‘hotspots’ with its unique rates of endemism. This includes being one of the top 5 places in the world for the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle to nest. Poaching and coastal development is a big problem here, threatening the turtle populations,so protected areas hopes to allow them the space to reproduce safely. However, creating TPAs and managing them is also a complicated issue, of which has interesting solutions.
So far things have been going very smoothly, everyone here is super kind helping me stay busy and integrate me into the project. With the TPA project I spend most my time beach profiling and beach monitoring/patrolling. Although TPAs are not officially established on a legal basis, MCSS is operating as if many of the beaches here are TPAs already to help turtles and illustrate the benefits of protected areas. Such work includes collecting data to measure the rates of erosion on the beaches and monitoring beaches for anthropogenic obstacles that would obstruct the turtles nesting. At the moment, it is not turtle nesting season, yet it is important to still check for nests and how able they will be able to nest when they do arrive.Everyday I’m in the field on some of the most beautiful and wild beaches I’ve ever seen.
Beach profiling Anse Bazarca
Beach profiling Anse
In addition, I have begun working with the AnseForbans wetland restoration project. This has been really exciting as there’s loads to be done! This is the great thing about MCSS, when there is help needed, they allow you to integrate into other projects too. My main job with this is to start mapping out the whole wetland area including the rivers that feed and stem from the wetlands. This means I am having to battle with GIS software, but useful knowledge to have. We have just begun terrapin trapping also, something I have assisted with at Banyan tree, and also water sampling for pollutants. All of this is helping me see what needs to be collected in order to develop plans for restoration projects and to learn more intimately how ecosystems are all interconnected.

Hopefullythere is a chance to communicate more with local farmers/residents at AnseFrobans about the importance of wetlands, and how they will benefit from wetland restoration and how they can be part in the decision making over the restoration plans. But for now work is sweet and pleased to have several more weeks here on Mahe!

2016-2017 Seasonal Report

The 2016-2017 nesting season has come to an end and we have already entered into the 2017-2018 nesting season, although at the moment it is very quiet  with no  Hawksbill turtles nesting so far, except for a few Green turtle tracks found over a month ago on the main nesting beaches.

For the 2016-2017  season, we recorded 370 emergence on the 14 monitored beaches, along with 164 nests.
MCSS also had the chance to encounter 40 nesting turtles, which is always very interesting and we get to collect some data on them; carapace length and width, check for any injuries or abnormalities, check if they have a tag number and also get good pictures of the left and right side of the face for identification. The best task though is to try and do an egg count as they are laying...this can be very tricky as sometimes you can have 3 or 4 egg coming out at the same time..and this happens fast, so the final count is always an approximate count.

The MCSS team is now looking forward for the peak of the nesting season for 2017-2018, new volunteers and interns will be coming in and they will be keeping an update of all the highlights of the season.
Other than that, we will soon be celebrating the Sea Turtle Festival Seychelles and the team is ready to participate in the March and spread sea turtle awareness in the country.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Emiel's final blog

Hello everyone, it is Emiel again. The journey comes to an end.
 It has been an amazing experience and I learned a lot. The hawksbill turtle nesting season was just ending when we arrived so for our project we did not have a lot of work to do with nesting turtle as there weren't any!

Green turtle track from above using the drone
We (me and my buddy Tarek) went on beach patrolling every Wednesday, on all the 14 main nesting beaches, to see if there were any emergences and nesting of green turtles. Green turtles nest the year round. Every second week we found green turtle tracks and also some nests, mostly on Anse Grand Police and AnseBazarca. The last week, we even got to fly a good high-tech drone! We were testing if it would be a more efficient way of patrolling the beaches. It wasn’t at that moment, probably because we were still figuring out how we could do it in the best way, but regardless it was awesome.
The other days we helped out with the other projects. We helped out Inga with here terrapin trapping project, even taking over her project for a week when she was away. This was very cool as we had the chance to drive around the south of the island, to all the different wetlands. Some of them were in the forest, some of them in local farms or even in peoples’ backyard. Everyone was
always really friendly and interested in what we did, asking us questions and being enthusiastic when we caught a terrapin. We even got filmed by a crew of CNN, for a documentary.

On Tuesday and Thursday, we usually did bird monitoring. I really liked this one. We had a few transect across the Banyan Tree wetland where we would then count all the birds we found on our path. This was a great opportunity to learn about all the different birds in the wetlands in on Mahé. In the end, we saw all the birds there were to see in the wetlands and from some of them even their nests and juveniles. 
Luckily, after three weeks, we did not have to do the water hyacinth clearing anymore. It was not the most fun job in the world and on top of that it did not really feel helpful. They were growing way to fast! The resort finally realized they had to do something about it and hired an external contractor to
Last and not least, everyones’ favorite, the beach profiling. To do a beach profiling, you have certain fixed points along the beach, on the most inland side of the beach. At low tide, you define the angle/inclination of the beach and the distance towards the sea. You repeat that for each time the angle changes, until you get to the water. You repeat all this for all the points on the beach. We did this for 6 nesting beaches (Anse Intendance, Anse Grand Police, Anse Petit Police, AnseBazarca, AnseCorail and AnseCachee). This way if you do it each month over a long period of time, you can see how the beaches evolve over time. Do they rise because they get more sand deposit from the sea or do they erode? Interesting job but time consuming and exhausting as you spent the whole day in the sun.
All in all, it was an amazing experience with a lot of amazing people to work with! I really enjoyed my stay but sadly, now it’s time to go back home to Belgium. I would like to thank everyone I worked with for the great time I had here. Thank you Vanessa, Alessia, Rebecca, Tarek, Elena, Luana and Inga.
A shot I took with the drone!