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 something....ad 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 encounter....here 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!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fresh Tracks...New nest!

It has been very quiet for a long while and even when we were in the nesting season it wasn't that busy too sadly.
Nils doing the split!
Nonetheless, our last patrol brought some excitement around finally, where two sets of Green turtle tracks were spotted on one of the main nesting beaches. The tracks were so fresh and we were all wishing we could have encountered the turtles. However Green turtles usually nest in the early hours or at night when it's dark, so our chances of encountering them are low.
The Interns on patrol were so excited to see some tracks finally and as for me I was relieved more then excited, firstly to see that the turtles are still around and made it safely back to sea after their nesting activities and secondly I was relieved that the tracks could finally bring some proof to the interns that all my teachings and explanations about sea turtle monitoring could be put to be to the test. We had to identify the up and down tracks and detect if the turtle had successfully nested, but the big test was to be able to do a split while trying to measure the width of the track which were approximately 110cm!
Keeping the interns busy - measuring and recording!
The nesting beaches need constant monitoring even if we are not in the peak of the nesting season, lots of rubbish are being washed up onto the beach everyday and we aim to keep the beaches clean and clear, so rubbish collection is a task we undertake to reach our aim, but individuals are encouraged to help by collecting at least three pieces of rubbish when visiting the beaches and moreover never to leave any after visiting as well, especially people who like to have picnics.

Closer to the nesting season, we will carry out a more in depth cleaning and clearing of the nesting platform as well, where dry vegetation and non beneficial plants are removed. Other than that, we will be keeping a close eye on the new Green turtle nest and hope that the next couple of months treats the eggs well!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Nils' additional help with the turtle project

Nils started his internship with MCSS a few weeks ago.... Not the best period to be working on the Temporal Protected Areas Project for sea turtle conservation as there isn't any around at the moment since we are out of the nesting season for hawksbill turtle, nonetheless he has been involved on quite a few task, as he shares below........

Hello everyone! My name is Nils and currently I am involved with Vanessa’s TPA-Project in
the south of Mahé. As a part of my master’s programme I am volunteering with the MCSS.
Because the nesting season for Hawksbill turtles is already over for this time of the year I am
following different tasks than the daily monitoring of the beach. One of my main tasks for
the last two weeks was the maintenance of the Photo-ID-Database that the MCSS
established. I modified some features that makes the work easier to handle for the future
database modification for Turtle ID

Additionally, to the land-based computer work I got involved to create a whole new in-water
seafloor assessment. The goal is it to characterize the main nesting beaches by their depth
and substrate on the seabed. By doing line-transects along the beach at certain distance we
collect our data. So far, we only carried it out on Anse Intendance to get an idea whether it
works the way we planned it. For future times we would like to extend this survey to other
nesting beaches.
The main reason for doing this is to get an idea of how the seafloor character and the depth
might influence the turtles to get out of the water at a certain point. Several publications
suggest that Hawksbill turtles and Green Sea turtles prefer different habitat characteristics.
Hopefully the transects will be successful and the data add up to the understanding of the
nesting turtles.

first pilot survey of the Intendance seafloor