Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct

MCSS in collaboration with staff from Banyan Tree Resort on Mahé and Constance Lemuria Resort on Praslin recently translated the “Turtle Watcher’s Code of Conduct” (TWCC). The TWCC was produced by MCSS as part of the project on the “Strategic Management of Turtle populations in Seychelles” funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British High Commission, Victoria, in consultation with Dr. Jeanne Mortimer. The aim of the TWCC was to to allow residents and tourist alike to enjoy watching a nesting turtle while ensuring that the turtle is not harmed or disturbed. This is particularly important in Seychelles, as Hawksbill turtles nest during the day time - a behaviour unique to Seychelles - when most people are out on the beach and sunbathing.

The original Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct (English version)

The TWCC is now available in; English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian and is being distributed to the public and visitors to ensure that people can view a nesting turtle without any negative impacts.

MCSS has personalised the leaflets for use by each of its turtle monitoring partners in Seychelles. That is, the original TWCC has been slightly modified to incorporate the logo and contact details of each of the partners who manage a turtle monitoring programme.

The Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct for the Cousine Island Nature Reserve (German version)

As part of their turtle awareness programmes, both Banyan Tree and Lemuria Resort have incorporated the translated TWCC in a multilingual brochure for their clients. Banyan Tree Resort is also displaying the TWCC at each beach access point at Intendance beach.

The Banyan Tree Resorts Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct brochure

The Lemuria Resort’s Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct brochure

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Seychelles Tourism Police – an untapped resource in turtle monitoring activities

The tourism police is proving to be a useful partner in the MCSS monitoring activities. Not only do they assist with security when monitoring Beach #7, but they are now reporting turtle sightings around Mahé.

Christopher Adrianne (left) from the Police Tourism Unit assisting with the turtle poaching incident previously reported, photo Michel Vely

MCSS Research Officer, Elke Talma, was advised by Christopher Adrianne, a Tourism Policeman who is based in the South of Mahé, that one of his co-workers had seen a turtle nesting on Petite Anse the previous day. Not one to miss an opportunity, Elke went to pay Vincent Petrous a visit, and sure enough the tracks were still there. The turtle was seen emerging sometime after 12:30, dug 3 times before laying and was still on the beach at around 15:00 when the Indian labourers working on the Four Seasons Luxury Resort Project went on the beach for afternoon tea.

Both Vincent and Christopher are extremely enthusiastic about turtles, Christopher having seen 3 turtles to date and Vincent having had his first encounter that day, and is eagerly waiting for “his” turtle to return so he can see her laying.

Petite Anse, a perfect beach for nesting turtles but somehow they never got the memo, photo Elke Talma

Such enthusiasm and interest, can only benefit turtle conservation in Seychelles as the Tourism Police Unit, which was set up in October 2007 as an auxiliary unit in the Police Force, monitors a number of beaches on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. These policemen and women are on the beach primarily to reduce cases of thefts but are empowered under the Beach Control Act of Seychelles to arrest anyone committing an illegal act – nudist and turtle poachers alike, beware!

As they are on the beach all day, the Tourism Police Unit are in a prime position to report turtle nesting activities to both MCSS and Ministry of Environment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tiger sharks... a natural predator of turtles

Monday morning the ‘radio bamboo’ (local gossip channel) brought us some interesting if sad news, especially after Saturdays turtle incident. On that same Saturday early in the morning, two local fishermen hunting shark off ‘Ti Marie Louise’ landed an enormous tiger shark.

The Tiger Shark, sometimes referred to as 'a garbage can with fins', photo Save Our Seas Foundation

Its great maw could have easily accommodated the head and shoulders of an average man and it would have had no trouble biting him in two. When they opened up the shark, there was a good sized hawksbill turtle inside it, the turtle was about 40 cms long, I guess it was pretty beat up as they didn’t save it. The shark however is now cleaned and salted and its great jaws have been retained as a trophy.

The jaws of a tiger shark are sought after as trophies or curios

These large aggressive sharks will eat almost anything; nothing is too big or too small. Their diet includes seals, jellyfish, turtles, seabirds, other sharks, sea snakes, crabs in fact anything that crosses their path including rubbish which has earned them the nickname of ‘Dustbin of the sea’. They are rated second to the great white shark for attacks on humans and their conservation status is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN Red List.

Not all shark attacks on turtles are fatal; some escape but will carry the scars for the rest of their lives like on the rear flipper of this hawksbill; photo Elke Talma

Our poor turtles, threatened on all sides from the time they were just an egg in its sandy nest to their time in the sea and all that swims in it. Yet I think the biggest threat has been from us mankind.

This post was contributed by Patricia Mathiot.. Thanks Pat!!

Turtle Power!

I hadn’t planned to spend the evening fully dressed, up to my knees in the Indian Ocean waving a mobile phone torch around, while my husband emptied a wastepaper basket full of newly hatched turtles onto the beach! It wasn’t exactly a ‘David Attenborough’ style production, but we did our very best to gather up the hatchlings that filled our villa garden one evening, which we discovered on our way to dinner.

Paul and Victoria had plans of a romantic dinner at the Banyan Tree Resort.....
so much for plans!

All plans for food were abandoned and we carefully picked our way through the turtles, collecting them gently in the basket to take to the sand to send on their way. There was no sign of a moon that night so the turtles chose the next best thing to follow, our porch light, which unfortunately was in the opposite direction to the sea!

Turtle hatchlings by the bucket full! Photo Elke Talma

With help from hotel security (as big and tough as they were they still went ‘ahhh how sweet’ when they saw the hatchlings) we collected every turtle that we could find from our garden and nearby villa gardens, and carried them to the beach where we carefully tipped them out onto the sand near the shore.

Immediately they set off across the sand straight back towards the villa! Since they naturally follow the brightest light source this meant that to get them to the sea I had to walk backwards with my mobile phone torch so that they would follow the light in the right direction. When I stopped at the shoreline, they did too and it was then I realised I was going to have to get wet! So I waded backwards through the water so that the turtles followed and got washed away with the tide, swimming eagerly as they departed. Eventually twenty minutes later all of the tiny turtles had finally been ushered into the sea, after a couple were dug out of crab holes they had slipped into, and they set off to begin their struggle to survive in the ocean.

We were both very excited about our accidental ‘turtle adventure’ and even more delighted to meet Elke (the turtle chick!) the next day who very patiently explained as much as she could about the hatchlings, their development and their very slim chances of survival, and the work that she does to educate the staff at the Banyan tree.

Turtle chick excavating the nest in Victoria and Paul's villa garden, photo Victoria & Paul

Thanks to her, we went home with lots more knowledge and a newly sparked interest in marine wildlife! Our experience was unforgettable and possibly a once in a lifetime chance to see newly hatched hawksbill turtles start their life in the ocean, and we hope that at least one turtle will make it back to visit Elke in the future!!

This post was contributed by Victoria and Paul Weatherer... Thank you!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I tracked Carol – school science project completed

“Carol is the name given to the surviving hawksbill turtle that MCSS had equipped with a hi-tec satellite-relayed GPS tag at the end of last year… and Carol seems set to cause quite a stir in scientific circles!” said Dr David Rowat of the environmental NGO, Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles (MCSS).

The project dubbed “Tracking Carol, the Hawksbill Turtle” which is funded by Barclays Bank and being implemented by MCSS draws its support from the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles (WCS) and Until this project, there was little if any information on the movement patterns of the nesting turtle populations on the developed islands of Mahé and Praslin, nor where they go to forage between nesting seasons. With the support of Barclays Bank, two turtles nesting on the beaches on the South of Mahé were fitted with MK10AF satellite tracking tags that recorded their movement patterns and diving habits during the following months. Unfortunately, one of these was killed by a poacher on December 26th 2007, ten short days after being tagged. Luckily, the second turtle escaped his rampage and left the area safely. She was named “Carol” by Jessica Marengo, a member of Dolphin Wildlife Club as part of one of the school awareness programmes organised under this project in April 2008.

Carols track as plotted by the facilities on

Carol’s location was tracked on-line through the facilities of and were shared with teachers at local schools via the Wildlife Clubs through the internet with Barclays Bank providing two computers to the Wildlife Clubs at the Centre for Environment and Education (Nature Seychelles), Roche Caiman. According to Dr. Rowat, the tag was expected to last only 3 months given the tag’s programmed settings and associated battery life, but surprisingly, Carol is still transmitting 10 months on. She has spent the past two months off Mitsio islands off north-west Madagascar, bringing into question the previous school of thought which suggested that Hawksbill turtles remained on the Seychelles plateau between nesting seasons.

In addition to collecting scientific data, this programme was aimed at increasing public awareness of Seychelles turtles through a programme that integrated research into the activities of the schools and Wildlife Clubs as well as re-invigorating public awareness by several competitions including an art contest in April 2008 and a science-project contest, which was on display at the National Library between the 15th to 21st October.

One of the team displays, photo Elke Talma

“Tracking Carol, the hawksbill turtle” has generated a lot of interest amongst the youth and especially Wildlife Club members. Five clubs submitted displays for judging on the 14th October: Banyan Star Wildlife Club from Anse Etoile Primary school, Colibri Wildlife Club from Plaisance Secondary School, Mahogany Wildlife Club from Grand Anse Mahe Primary School, Vev Wildlife Club from La Digue Secondary School and ICT students from Plaisance Secondary School.

As this is a unique project, organiser felt that the prizes should be equally special. In addition to awarding prizes to the school children for their effort, it was equally important to recognise the team leaders (teachers) who kept their students motivated over the past few months.

In recognition of their effort and interest in turtle conservation, all participants received a t-shirts designed by MCSS, funded by Barclays Bank and printed by Hi-Tech graphics, a certificate of participation designed and printed by MCSS and subscription to the MCSS newsletters, namely Sagren, Torti d’mer and MCNews.

The first prize for the team project was sponsored by Masons Travel which was awarded to Colibri Wildlife Club: a “peaks of paradise” boat excursion to the North of Mahé, including lunch. The second prize, a boat trip to the Marine Park including lunch sponsored by Creole Travel Services, was awarded to Plaisance Secondary School, while the third prize a guided tour of the Vallee de Mai, including transfers between Praslin and La Digue, sponsored by Mason’s Travel and Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) was awarded to Vev Wildlife Club, La Digue.

Third place winners vev Wildlife Club receive their prize from Ingird Saurer on behalf of sponsors Masons Travel, photo Gilbert Gendron

Additional prizes were awarded to the teachers of the winning teams for their hard work and for keeping their students motivated. Ms. Juliette Cousin, team leader of the winning project, won a voucher for two nights on Cousine Island, a nature reserve where turtles nest, sponsored by Cousine Island Resort. The second prize was awarded to Ms. Mary-May Iman who will be treated to a scenic flight for two courtesy of Helicopter Seychelles whilst the third prize, lunch at Banyan Tree Resort, went to Mr Eric B. Atulo, Ms. Shirley Joubert, Ms. Elsie Rose, Mr. Davidson Jacques and Mr Claire Ernesta of Vev Wildlife Club.

Our thanks to the organising committee and judges for their hard work in choosing the winners of this programme and to all those who have participated in tracking Carol, she may yet have some further surprises for us. For the latest information on Carol check out the maps on the side bar of this blog.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Meet Patricia, Marcels Mathiot's better half...

Hi I am Patricia, Marcel’s better half and I am also a keen turtle conservationist. I believe that it’s through the children that our best work will be done so it’s nice to meet you Mathew such a very young turtle lover.

Take heart you are not alone, my grandchildren are also keen turtle conservationists and have been ever since they were knee high to a grasshopper. It is pure magic for them to know that Turtles nest in their grandparent’s front garden and then, when they are here, to watch the hatchlings swimming off to sea.

They also enjoy having adopted a turtle each and look forward to the updates that they receive through the year from MCSS. These they share with their teachers and classmates at school.

It was through the turtle adoption scheme that they were introduced to the need for conservation so if you are thinking about giving an unusual Christmas gift why not make it a turtle adoption. Just click on this link which will take you to the MCSS site.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

First turtle poaching incident of the season

On Wednesday, we had more than a little excitement. I was on beach #2 doing a turtle patrol when I came across a set of fresh turtle tracks. Excited about the prospect of my first turtle encounter of the season, I followed the tracks up the beach, noted the abandoned body pit and followed the tracks back down the beach, only to realise something was terribly wrong.
Hawksbill Turtle tracks heading up the beach, photo Elke Talma
Someone had abducted my turtle!! The tracks suggested that she had been flipped onto her shell after a small skirmish and dragged back towards the vegetation. The culprits, realising that they were near an inhabited area must have been concerned about being caught and after dragging her some 20m changed their plans. I assume they originally wanted drag her into the bushes before killing her. Their tracks showed that they then picked her up and carried her back down to the sea.
Busy writing my notes, it took me a while to see the empty boat moored some 100m offshore – then the panic set in. Oh my god! I am on the beach all alone and there are at least 2 men out there armed with a BIG, SHARP, KNIFE and weary of being caught with a dead/dying turtle! Lucky for me, I have memorised the cell-phone reception hot spots on all my beaches (which otherwise have poor coverage), so grabbing my mobile I called in the Army ... literally!
Elke studiously documenting all she sees, photo Tracy Kolodziej
When the soldier from the nearby army camp arrived, I was hoping he would be armed with a gun, or maybe a knife, or at the very least a big stick. Obviously, I know nothing about military strategy as he felt quite safe carrying a pair of flip flops! Cautiously, I followed him over the rocks as we tried to locate the poachers, having assumed that they were hidden somewhere nearby, disembowelling my poor turtle.
Eventually we saw them, happily snorkelling around the bay looking for octopus. Unable to get to them, we admitted defeat and let them be. Or at least I wanted them to think so!
I called Gilberte Gendron from Ministry of Environment to tell her about the poachers, then tried to call Johan, the MCSS microlight pilot here for the Whale Shark Season (, hoping that he could fly over the boat and at the very least get the boat number so we could identify the owner, if not the poacher. However, Johan was already in the air and not answering his *#@$^ phone. What to do!
The poacher’s boat just of out range to read the registration number, photo Michel Vely.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Johan, who by now had landed the microlight, headed South to identify these poachers and help coordinate efforts to apprehend them. After some really low flybys, they were still unable to identify the occupants or record the boat number. By then, Gilberte was on site with Mr Michel Vely (technical Advisor to the Ministry of Environment), Danny Dine and a set pair of really fancy binoculars, and soon we had a name, from the Seychelles Fishing Authority, to go with the boat.

We spent the rest of the morning driving from one beach to the next, following the completely unconcerned men as they continued to search for octopus and fish. We had people posted on at least 4 beaches keeping a lookout for then, including a very confused receptionist from Banyan Tree Resort, 2 tourism police (each on a different beach) and a resident from beach #3. Trying to keep in touch with everyone, while still on the move, however, proved problematic.
Three mobile phones and still we can’t get hold of anyone, photo Michel Vely.
None of us were empowered to arrest the men, my fuel was running low, my phone had died on me and as I had hiked more than 6km of beach already, I got tired of the chase and headed back to the MCSS office. The unconcerned attitude of the ‘poachers’ was worrying me – either they had dumped the turtle meat when they saw the Twin Otter circling or someone else had taken the turtle and they just happen to still be there when I got to the beach.

Mr. Vely, however, seemed unconcerned with his fuel bill and looked glad to be out of the office. He drove Gilberte and Danny around some more, before eventually they too admitted defeat after having lost the suspects. They decided to return to their office along the west coast, heading for Anse Golette, where the registered boat owner lived, and lo and behold they found the boat and men again!

The men were landing their catch of fish and octopus ... no turtle in sight but to hear Gilberte tell it, the man they were talking to seemed awfully nervous for someone with nothing to hide.
A fine days catch of pretty parrot fish but no turtle meat in sight, photo Michel Vely.
After reviewing the day’s events, we all concluded that it was an opportunistic poaching, that they had probably hidden the meat as soon as they got to shore but with no power to search or arrest, we had no case against them.

They may have gotten away with it that day, but after the effort that went into tracking them, they may think twice about trying again ... one can only hope!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Meet Matthew, the youngest (and newest) team member

Matthew, the newest and youngest turtle monitoring recruit! Photo, Elke Talma

Meet Matthew Kolodziej, the youngest MCSS volunteer to join the Turtle Monitoring Team. Matthew is 4 months old and already is proving to be a keen marine biologist. His favourite book of all time is the SeaSmart Kidz Alphabet of the Sea produced by the Save our Seas Foundation ( He likes it so much, that he will not go to bed until his mommy, Tracy, had read him the Alphabet of the Sea!

Matthew's favourite book, available from the Save Our Seas Foundation

While MCSS Research Officer, Elke, was hoping to show Matthew his first turtle (she had a strong turtle vibe the whole time they were walking!), luck was not on their side. As MCSS monitors multiple beaches, it’s hit and miss with regards to turtle encounters and that day it proved to be a miss as a turtle had indeed nested on beach #5 that morning. Unfortunately, she left the beach shortly before the team arrived on site, leaving a nice set of fresh tracks to tease them!

As Matthew currently has a memory of 10 to 15 seconds, the experience would have undoubtedly been wasted on him. The close call, however, may tempt his mommy and granny to try their luck again…

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

So much for my retirement.....

Hi I'm Marcel Mathiot and I live on a beach in the south east of Mahe Island, Seychelles. When my wife Patricia and I were building our house we were delighted to see turtles coming up the beach to nest. We would watch over them as they laid their eggs and ensure their safe return to the sea. Sometimes we even paid those that wanted to kill the turtle, not to kill it, but instead to help us by allowing it to nest and return unharmed to the sea.

In 2005, we became aware of the 'Turtle Chick' who was patroling our quiet stretch of beach. She looked rather official as she made notes on her clipboard and inspected the beachcrest. Our curiosity lead us to ask her what on earth she was doing. Shortly after this, I, an unofficial Turtle Watcher got roped into being an official Turtle Conservation Officer. Now I get to patrol the beach and inspect the beach crest, and 'Oh Happy Days', I also get to fill out the endless Data Sheets.

Marcel Mathiot, Turtle Conservation Officer, photo Pat Mathiot

This is now my 4th Turtle season with MCSS and while I have enjoyed every minute of it, my interest in Turtles and their conservation goes back many years. It has been encouraging to see people change from being 'Turtle Predators' to 'Turtle Protectors'........but we still have a long way to go.