Sunday, May 23, 2010

MCSS and Chalets d' Anse Forbans – partners in turtle conservation

In March, long after the weekly monitoring had been discontinued by MCSS at the “end” of the 2009-10 Hawksbill Nesting Season, a turtle decided to emerge on Anse Marie Louise in front of Chalet No. 2. The sighting was reported to Brigitte Howarth, manager of Chalets d' Anse Forbans, who was on hand to ensure that the turtle was not disturbed by the many clients who were eager to photograph their first encounter with a nesting turtle.

As Elke was on the other side of the island, the turtle could not be marker tagged but as she has a distinctive scar, she is easily recognisable. In fact, according to Brigitte’s grandmother, the turtle had been seen nesting on the same beach some 6-7 years ago. Just to be on the safe side though, clients were instructed to take numerous profile shots which will be processed and added to the turtle photo-ID database.

Hawksbill turtle with distinctive scar bite mark nesting on Anse Marie Louise, Photo Chalet D’Anse Forbans.

The following day, Elke was on site to mark the nest and thus the long wait for the hatchlings to emergence began.

New nest markers designed by Elke in 2010 for sensitive nests, Photo Chalet D’Anse Forbans.

As the due date approached, there was concern for the turtle eggs as recent heavy rainfall and extreme high tides could significantly increase mortality rates within the nest. If the egg chamber remained waterlogged because of poorly drained soil, the embryos would suffocate or drown and the added moisture could encourage bacteria or fungal growth. This being the last nest of a rather poor nesting season, it was decided that the nest would be dug up and if necessary, the eggs incubated artificially to maximise the survival rate.

On the 5th May, Elke was on site to excavate the eggs which were due to hatch between the 4th and 19th May. Much to everyone’s surprise and delight the hatchling were resting some 10cm below the sand surface and, after being woken up by Elke, needed little encouragement to make the final trek to the sea.

Brigitte had rounded up her clients for the released and an impromptu turtle awareness talk given by Elke. By the time hatchling No. 159 made it to the sea, there were at least 20 very happy people on the beach, including a local building contractor who had come to see Brigitte for some work and had never seen a turtle in his life!

If the species is to survive, people need to be able to appreciate the wonder of nature, Photo Chalet D’Anse Forbans.

With 5 dead embryos in the nest, Elke was even able to get a DNA sample for Ifremer.

MCSS has been working closely with Chalets d' Anse Forbans in the South of Mahé since 2004 and over the years has received logistical and financial assistance for the MCSS Turtle Monitoring and Conservation Programme. While there may not be many nesting turtles on this beach, there are enough to keep the clients of Chalets coming back every year so they can finally see for themselves the one that got away. On-going rehabilitation work at the Chalets is also helping to provide suitable nesting sites for turtles on a beach that is severely affected by erosion.

Ms Daphné Jumeau of Chalets d' Anse Forbans (right) presenting MCSS with a cheque to help towards their ongoing work in the conservation of turtles in the Seychelles, Photo Chalet D’Anse Forbans.

NOTE: MCSS does not make it standard practice to dig up turtle nests, however, in special cases hatchling provide the perfect backdrop to turtle awareness talks for both residents and visitors, re-enforcing the need to protect these amazing animals.

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