Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chalet D’Anse Forbans continues to support the MCSS turtle programme.

Chalet D’Anse Forbans, a family-run self-catering facility in the South of Mahé, has been supporting the MCSS turtle programme since 2004, through annual donations and staff participation in the ongoing monitoring on Anse Marie Louise.

Young Connor, one of the proprietor's children, respectfully following the MCSS turtle watchers code of conduct, Photo Elke Talma.

Together with their international partners, Trauminsel Reisen, the Seychellois proprietors of the Chalets have renewed their commitment to Turtle conservation in Seychelles as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Trauminsel Reisen.

Between February 2010 to February 2011, Chalets d’Anse Forbans will donate €25 to MCSSS for each Trauminsel Reisen client staying 6 or more nights at the Chalets

Eligible Trauminsel Reisen clients will receive an MCSS “honorary turtle conservationist” certificate and will be added to the MCSS turtle blog mailing list.

Aerial view of Chalet d’Anse Forbans, photo Elke Talma.

For more information, please visit: Chalet D’Anse Forbans or Trauminsel Reisen.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Climate Change Watchmen

Contributed by Nature Seychelles

It's been a very exciting time for the Turtle monitoring team on Cousin Island and there is something of a celebratory mood at present. You see, nearly two months of waiting are over and slowly hundreds of nests will begin to release their prize: brand new baby hawksbill turtles.

“Alongside the hatchlings, we will also receive data from 30 nests through a pilot program looking at how cool or hot the nests are” says Jovanni Simeon, the Chief Warden of Cousin. The data will be retrieved from instruments called data loggers that were buried in the nest during laying.

"To date, we have maintained a long term rigorous monitoring programme for the Hawksbill on Cousin Island, which has helped in the conservation of this endangered species. Adding a new dimension with the temperature data loggers is expected to elevate this monitoring to new standards now being adopted elsewhere in the world. We have become climate change watchmen". Says Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles CEO.

Cousin Island is the most important nesting site in the western Indian Ocean for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle. They nest here, as in the rest of the Seychelles Islands, between August and February and intensive monitoring takes place during this period to collect as much information as possible to inform the conservation management of this species.

The turtle monitoring program on Cousin is based on regular beach patrols carried out around the island to intercept and collect data on as many turtles as possible. Tags applied to the turtles’ front flippers are used to identify individuals and to provide an estimate of the size of the nesting population. Other information such as the size of the turtle and tracks are also noted and the location of any nests are marked and recorded.

But now with the dangers of Global Warming all the conservation efforts may come to nought if we do not know what is going on and act in time. Why is this? Temperatures inside the turtle nests determine the sex ratio of hatchlings. Warmer temperatures produce more females and cooler temperatures give more males. With rising global temperatures, it is essential to understand the potential impacts of climate change on this thermally sensitive species. It is the temperature within the middle third of the approximately 60-day incubation period that determines the sex of the hatchlings.

Temperatures inside the nests determine the sex ratio of turtle hatchlings.

This is why during this season, data loggers were added to 30 nests to collect information on nest temperature. Nests are closely monitored around the time of hatching. The data logger is removed so data can be downloaded and used in estimating an approximate sex ratio of the hatchlings.

"As soon as we observe hatching, we prepare to download the data as well as take measurements from a sampling of the hatchlings. The total number of hatchlings is also recorded." Says Eric Blais Conservation Officer, who is working alongside volunteer, Mary Ledlie, who has given her time to this important project. Photos are taken to add to the information database on these animals.

Hawksbill hatchling being measured before release, photo Nature Seychelles

The new addition of climate change monitoring to the long term turtle management program on Cousin is expected to yield important results. Results that will help us to understand the impacts of climate change on wildlife and how we can react in appropriate ways to save our precious natural heritage.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dirk meets a rock climbing turtle

Following the release of the five young turtles from Germany Mr Dirk Hausen of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, stayed on for a short holiday in Seychelles and on his last day joined Elke on a turtle patrol.

Before they set off, Elke made it very clear that there would be a lot of walking on hot, humid beaches and that they would not see any turtles as the tides were wrong. Despite the warning, Dirk insisted on coming along, as he wanted to see more of the island.

By the time they got to the 5th beach, one of Elke predictions was called into question ... there was a turtle on the beach!
In fact, Elke and Dirk were so busy talking that they nearly trampled the poor animal.

After selecting a safe and comfortable viewing area, it was soon clear that the turtle needed assistance. She was on her second egg chamber and digging up roots. Sneaking up behind her, commando style, Elke and Dirk took turns to help rip the roots out of her way (Elke’s trusty knife for such occasions was in the office with the satellite tagging gear, in the hope that she would eventually lay her eggs.

Dirk sneaking up on the turtle to assist with digging, photo Elke Talma

After an hour of trying to dig an egg chamber, the turtle decided to move on...picking a spot less than a meter away with just as many roots!
After digging a total of 4 egg chambers, the turtle finally decide she had enough and headed back to sea without laying.

Dirk cringed as he listened to the grinding of her shell, as she navigated over the rocks. Elke, who by now hot, injured and covered from head to toe in sand, after her “good deed” for the day, felt no sympathy whatsoever!!!
Dirk trying to get a facial shot for photo-ID, photo Elke Talma

NOTE: The same turtle was seen by a group of inebriated tourists later that day. She emerged on a neighbouring beach and for reasons yet to be properly explained, her eggs were relocated to a 3rd beach. This means that Elke will not be getting any DNA from this turtle!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

MCSS and World Wetland Week

Things were hectic last week with Seychelles hosting the first ever World Wetland Week, an initiative by the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands, the World Tourism Organisation and the Government of Seychelles. The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Wetlands connect life and culture”.

Despite being on the local Wetland Scientific Committee, somebody forgot to invite Elke to many of the activities but Elke was able to turn up anyway - like a bad penny!

One of the activities, where Elke ended up being directly involved was a site visit to Intendance Wetland at Banyan Tree Resort for the signing of an agreement between the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to help countries that use their water ecosystems wisely.

Anada Tiéga (left) of the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and Sustainable Development Director of the Tourism Organisation, Luigi Cabrini (right), photo Elke Talma.

Elke found out about the event the day before and spent most of the next day photographing, measuring and marking terrapins for a symbolic release to commemorate the signing of this important document. The terrapins, currently living in an old water storage tank at Banyan Tree Resort, had been rescued from the road leading to the Resort, and were being held captive, primarily as a tourism attraction but also for their own safety. Some had been in captivity for over a year, and while MCSS is not directly involved in the Banyan Tree Wetland Rehabilitation Programme, Elke has been an unpaid part-time advisor to the programme, particularly with regards to the terrapins, ever since J.Lo made her acquaintance.

One of 7 terrapins from “Terrapin Rescue Centre” being released into the Intendance Wetland, photo Wilna Accouche.

In lieu of a planned site visit by the delegates, the terrapin pen had been dubbed a “Terrapin Rescue Centre” by yours truly, and boasted a pretty new sign, hot of the presses!

With 13 terrapins remaining in the Rescue Centre, delegates were able to see how well Banyan Tree staff were caring for the animals while in captivity.

Delegates visiting the Banyan Tree Terrapin Rescue Centre, photo Elke Talma

Despite being a gate crasher, Elke somehow ended up playing tour guide while delegates asked questions about the Banyan Tree Wetland Rehabilitation Programme before moving on to Intendance beach. Elke was once again on hand to describe the MCSS-BTS Turtle Programme.

Delegates learning about nesting turtles at Anse Intendance, photo Wilna Accouche.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Help us find Betty!

In December 2009, MCSS deployed two satellite tags on nesting turtles in the South of Mahé. Wilna headed North East and seems to have reached her foraging ground some 100km from Mahé.

Betty, on the other hand is missing in action!
While we are still in contact with Betty’s tag, the signal is too weak to get a good fix on her position.

We suspect that Betty has been killed by poachers, with her carapace dumped in the bushes (hence the weak signal) somewhere in the South of Mahé.

Weak signals from Betty’s tag are originating from the Police Bay area.

If you find Betty’s remains, please let us know! ...if we can retrieve the tag, her death will not be in vain!

MKF-10 Satellite tag with 62GB storage capability, photo Elke Talma

dead or rescued turtles to MENRT Greenline 72 21 11
or MCSS hotline 71 35 00 (

No more emails from Carol!

Carol the Hawksbill turtle from Seychelles sent her last email to MCSS on 27th November 2009. After more than 700 days of data transmission to the Argos Satellite System, the battery on the revolutionary Mk10-AF fast-loc tag from Wildlife Computers has finally died.

Carol was one of the first turtles to be fitted with this type of tag, which records not only the standard data such as depth, temperature and light levels but also takes snapshots of GPS locations, allowing researchers to more accurately track movement patterns.

Currently Carol is the longest recorded satellite tracked animal, in terms of duration, in Seychelles - the longest whale shark attachment so far has been 123 days for a PAT tagged shark - and is possibly a world record for a GPS-satellite tagged turtle.

Carol should hopefully be returning to Seychelles during the 2010-11 nesting season. If she is captured while nesting, MCSS should be able to download 64MB worth of data, reporting on her every move, minute by minute, over the 704 days she kept in touch.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Turtles as climate change story-tellers

Contributed by Nature Seychelles

In Lewis Carroll's famous fantasy tale, "Alice in Wonderland" the sorrowful Mock Turtle, while telling Alice his history, makes this well-known statement, "We called him Tortoise because he taught us". He was speaking about the Master at his school in the sea who was an old Turtle. Among the lessons that Mock Turtle received were "mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography."

Alice listens to the Mock Turtle's sad tale, illustration by Ryan Durney.

Now, as in Lewis Carroll's tale, the old masters of the sea have a few things to teach us. And although Alice had a difficult time understanding the characters of Wonderland, we are able to make sense of what the turtles are telling us.

Scientists have long recognized sea turtles' sensitivity to weather changes at nesting sites. On beaches where turtles nest, rising sea levels and violent weather can affect nesting areas and impede success.

Significantly, however, is that a sea turtle's gender is determined by nest temperature during development. Turtles therefore are seen as good environmental indicators that can reveal the effects of climate change on the natural world. For this reason many turtle management programs are incorporating temperature measurements into their monitoring. This is the case with Nature Seychelles' monitoring program on Cousin Island, thought to be the longest running program of its kind for hawksbill turtles.

"During this nesting season for hawksbill turtles, we have added the use of data loggers in nests to take nest temperatures," Says David Derand Nature Seychelles' Science Coordinator. "This is an innovative monitoring exercise we are carrying out with technical assistance from Kelonia, Reunion's marine turtle observatory. We believe it will enrich the information we are currently collecting for hawksbill turtles on Cousin and help us improve the chances of this still endangered species. It will also give us information about climatic changes." The data loggers inserted into a nest during laying of eggs are retrieved at the end of the incubation period.

Tail end of a data logger and nesting turtle, photo Liz Mwambui

In humans and in most familiar animals, the gender of an offspring is determined by the genetic contribution of the father. Offspring receiving an X chromosome from the father develop into females, while those receiving a Y chromosome develop into males.

However, in Turtles gender is based on nest temperature. This is commonly referred to as temperature sex determination (TSD). Turtles have a pivotal temperature at which the ratio of males and females is equal. Temperatures above this number result in more female hatchlings and below it, in more males. Therefore, small rises in beach temperatures can result in all-female populations and lower temperatures, all male. A bias towards either gender obviously becomes a problem for breeding of the turtles.

Recently marine scientists have begun to predict that global climate change and rise in temperatures will result in the male numbers in turtles being severely impacted. Furthermore, if temperatures are extremely high, the implications may be more serious, leading to high mortality of hatchlings in affected nests, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). High egg loss could lead to a decrease in population size, increasing the vulnerability of these species to extinction.

Implementation of temperature monitoring projects helps to assess what the local impacts of global climate change will be on beaches and sea turtles populations. Monitoring information from Cousin will add to management needed to try to mitigate climate changes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Conservation of turtle rookeries on Mahé through increased public awareness and community involvement.

MCSS has received funding from Mangroves for the Future for a new project which looks at the “Conservation of turtle rookeries on the developed island of Mahé through increased public awareness and community involvement”. The primary objectives of this project are to: identify, monitor and rehabilitate priority turtle nesting beaches through collaborative programmes with local communities and stakeholders while raising public awareness in both residents and tourists about turtle conservation in Seychelles.

Elke (yellow shoes) speaking to officers from the Tourism Police about turtles, photo Veronique Bonnelame.

Since 2003, MCSS has been implementing several complementary and mutually supportive turtle projects that address the strategic, tactical and local scenarios in an attempt to address turtle conservation in an integrated manner. This project builds on the foundations and outputs of these on-going activities.

For turtle conservation to be effective in the long term to the broadest benefit of the Seychelles population through economic, educational, scientific and aesthetic benefits, it is necessary to maintain turtle rookeries on the developed islands of Seychelles.

Educating the youth is one way to help conserve turtles, photo Michele Martin.

In other parts of the world, effective and lucrative ecotourism activities have been established around turtle rookeries. In Seychelles, the benefits of turtle based eco-tourism have so far proven illusive as the resource is not sufficiently accessible and/or reliable to allow for the development of targeted activities. Healthy nesting populations on selected beaches coupled with reasonable feeding populations around the main developed islands offer scope for targeted marketing of turtle-related activities to the broader tourist population in a way that can have direct benefits to local communities.

For such a project to have any chance of success it must have good support from the populace in general and this in terms of goodwill, volunteerism and the donation of funds and facilities.