Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Anouk's first turtle experiences...

Hey, my name is Anouk. I am following the Erasmus Mundus Master Programme in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and in this framework I am currently doing an internship at MCSS for 3 weeks. 

On 4 April 2012 I took part in my first turtle walk. The general idea of turtle walk is to monitor the turtles’ nesting (surprisingly, Hawksbill turtle tend to nest during daylight hours in Seychelles) and check on the nests. If a recently hatched nest is found (indicated by hatchling tracks) the number of hatched as well as unhatched eggs are counted. 

In order to do that we walk along beaches that are potential nesting sites at the high-water line. This is because nesting takes place above high-tide mark, so adult or hatchling tracks should be seen here (don’t get confused by omnipresent crab tracks). As well as recording nests and turtles, we also note down human impacts like sunbathers, swimmers, boats, dogs, etc. Additionally, for some beaches we evaluate the suitability for nesting by rating the accessibility (foreshore area, erosion cliff,…) and the quality of the beach plateau for nesting. It is impressive to see how much a beach can change within one week! 

Last week we were lucky and actually came across hatchling tracks on Anse Bazarca – which, to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to identify as such and would’ve just thoughts it’s crab tracks again – but luckily enough our eagle-eyed turtle specialist Uzice has years of experience and know-how! After some minutes of searching in the vegetation we were able to locate the nest under some dry leaves the mother had put there to disguise it and in this way protect her offspring. In order to count the eggs we started burrowing – and very soon after we started digging we discovered it: a lonely hatchling who had apparently been struggling to free itself from the nest and make its way to the sea ever since its 202 siblings had had started their journey of life successfully! 

 Anouk checks out the lone hatchling

So we liberated it from the sand and carried it to the end of the vegetation, to make its life a bit easier and to speed up the process.  You might wonder why we didn’t just carry it all the way to the water, but female turtles return to the beach they were born on for their own nesting, so they need to mark the location in their own imaginary map in order to find their way back one day – given they survive until maturity and find a mate! 

 Anouk guards the lone hatchling as it struggles down the beach

So, after putting it down at the beginning of pure sand I stayed with my little fosterling and was going to protect it from all evils (birds, crabs, dogs, …) on its way across the beach. Our particular little hatchling, however, started walking in loops and circles after a little while because one of its flippers seemed to be numb (we cannot tell if this disability is the reason for or a result of its struggling in the nest) – so we were forced to carry our little ‘Nemo’ turtle with its lucky fin up to the shoreline, where it made its last steps towards the sea on its own. We waved goodbye as he escaped into the sea and we will keep our fingers crossed that in a couple of year’s time it will be grown up and graze in the coral reef just like the adult Hawksbill I came across while diving the other day. And that she will come back to this very beach to burrow a nest of her own and lay her eggs one day (or that he fertilizes the eggs of his mate successfully in case he's a male). 

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