Friday, October 21, 2016

Nicola & Alan share their experience with MCSS

Hello, we are Nicola and Alan from the UK. We have spent the last week of our holiday in the Seychelles volunteering with the MCSS on the Marine Turtle monitoring project, patrolling nesting beaches.
A fresh track!
We have been walking along nesting beaches at the high tide line, first thing in the morning, looking for distinctive turtle tracks. These can alert us to the fact that a female turtle has hauled herself out of the sea to crawl up the beach looking for somewhere suitable to lay her eggs. All turtles must return to land to lay their eggs, usually on the exact beach where they were born.

Looking for tracks
In the Seychelles, we are mostly looking for Hawksbill Turtles, the smallest of the 8 species of marine turtle found worldwide. Unfortunately, the Hawksbill has suffered from human persecution, not only for meat and eggs, loss of nesting beaches due to development and pollution, fishing practices, but as their shells are widely regarded as the most beautiful and are collected for decoration.

Hawksbills are unique in the Seychelles for nesting in the day; other turtles only nest at night, but as long as it is high tide (reducing distance to crawl) they will emerge to nest. There are occasional Green Turtle nests (of which we only saw one set of tracks during our week with MCSS).

If tracks are found we follow them and look for nesting signs…digging, false nest, and successful nest. Hopefully, we will find an adult turtle. On one such survey we were lucky enough to do this! A local resort alerted us to a huge Hawksbill Turtle on the beach outside the resort and we found her just as she was starting to dig a nest. We spent the next hour and a half watching her dig an egg chamber, lay eggs, camouflage the nest, and then crawl back down the beach to return to her marine world. It was a fantastic experience, one which we will never forget!
Can you spot the turtle?

This nest was laid in close proximity to a development and was fairly close to the high tide line (naturally the Turtle would have crawled higher up the beach but was prevented due to development). As a result, we had to collect the eggs, and place them further up the beach in a nest which we had dug. We counted approx. 210 eggs, which is a huge amount for a Hawksbill. The new nest was dug within the resort beach and fenced off. Data was collected, including turtle size, nest location, and any hazards on the beach. In addition to this photos are taken of the heads of the turtles which is entered into a facial recognition program so that individuals can be monitored (e.g. which/when beaches are being used) and avoids stressful methods such as tagging. Nests are monitored until the hatchlings are ready to head to the sea, usually in around 2 months time emerging at night.
....and she's off!.....back to sea!

We have really enjoyed our week volunteering with MCSS and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the incredible marine wildlife of the Seychelles. Vanessa, Marine Turtle Monitoring Officer, was very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and welcoming and it was a really valuable experience, one which we would not have been privileged to if we did not get involved. We are very sad to leave the Seychelles and hope to come back again one day, maybe we will see some of the hatchlings we witnessed being laid returning to a nesting beach!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Annabelle's update

Really like the Trimble:)
About a month ago, I (Annabelle du Parc) joined MCSS and the Conservation Team as a volunteer to help Vanessa monitor the nesting beaches for turtles in the south of Mahé. Since then, we have found tracks of turtles on the beaches, new nests, damaged nests (by dogs), we have relocated a nest which was too close to the  high tide line on the beach.

taking emergence GPS
 Then on September 30th , while Vanessa was attending a very interesting workshop on Protected areas, organized by IOC, Aleks and I had the chance to encounter our first hawksbill turtle. Awesome!!!
Turtle encounter on GPO

Today, while MCSS was welcoming 2 students form Maritime School, we encounter as well a Hawksbill turtle who tried to find a nice place to lay her eggs, but unfortunately she left without nesting: the place was not comfortable enough! 

Turtle Encounter on COR
However, we restrained her while she was on her way back to the sea and checked if she had a tag, if she was not injured and we took identification pictures as well as measurements. What a great experience!! As The nesting season for hawksbill turtles has just started, this should happen more often and we should be very busy for the following months!!!

New maritime students (Celeste & Lynn)
Besides nesting turtles beaches monitoring, we also do beach profiling, in order to study the erosion of nesting beaches and their impact on turtles nesting behavior. With climate change and sea water levels increase threatening, this exercice done by MCSS once a month is of a great importance. Sea level rise could lead to erosion of coastal ecosystems and eliminate nesting beaches as well as wetlands.