Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A new beginning.....

Meet Nigel, the hawksbill turtle hatchling, photo Elke Talma

Nigel has spent the past 2 months buried in the sand together with 175 of his brothers and sisters. After he hatched from his egg, he spent 2 to 3 days crawling through the sand column to reach the surface. As he and the rest of his siblings reached the last 10 cm of the sand column, where the sand is hotter, they stopped and waited..

Turtle hatchlings usually emerge from the sand at dusk when most of their predators are sleeping. Lying in wait within the sand column, they know its getting dark because the sand begins to cool. After some frantic scrambling, they cautiously peek over the rim of the nest area, looking for the brightest point on the horizon before making a mad dash to the sea, while trying desperately to avoid nocturnal crabs and other predators, lying in wait.

In this case, however, Nigel had some assistance. MCSS, funded by the Banyan Tree Resort’s Green Imperative Fund, runs a Nesting Turtle Monitoring Programme on Anse Intendance, South Mahe Island, Seychelles. Part of the turtle programme involves monitoring turtle nests during the 2 month incubation period, after which they are excavated to look at the egg clutch survivorship.

A hawksbill turtle hatchling emerges from an emergence dip, photo Sam Bonham

In the case of Nigel’s nest, an emergence dip (a shallow depression in the ground indicating a hatched nest) was observed and the nest was dug out by the research team. Imagine our surprise to find the hatchlings still in the nest (usually we get to deal with rotting eggs and maggots).

After alerting the hotel reception, so they could advise their clients of the happy event, we gathered all the hatchlings and moved them to a more suitable location on the beach for release. A study in Australia has shown that about 97% of hatchlings die within the first hour of hitting the water due to predation by reef fish and other animals. In light of this, we try to release any hatchlings we find in the nest during excavation in spots along the beach were there is no adjacent reef area. The hatchlings are then allowed to crawl down the beach, thus giving them a chance to imprint to solar radiation patterns and to assist their return to their nesting beach in 20 to 25 years time to mate and nest.

The first crawl down the beach can be a dangerous adventure for a turtle hatchling,photo Sam Bonham

Once in the water, Nigel swims perpendicular to oncoming waves and will travel many hundreds of kilometres until he reaches the drift line where he will stay for the next 10 to 15 years before returning to shore to begin the next phase of his life cycle as a juvenile.

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