Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wilna and Betty join Carol in making turtle history

In December 2007, MCSS deployed two fast-loc satellite relayed tags with funding from Barclays Banks, Seychelles. Two years later, David dropped off another two tags for Elke to play with! ...these were funded by the 2009 whale shark encounter trips.

Elke organised a 'camping trip' last week to the South of Mahé to find some turtles to put the tags on. The Banyan Tree Resort generously agreed to provide food and accommodation as Xanadu Private Resort, our previous accommodation on the beach, was having water issues.

MCSS sought assistance from previous partne
rs, namely the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) and the Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles (WCS), for additional man-power …or rather woman-power as it turned out to be!

Luxury Banyan Tree Resort accommodation…unfortunately not quite what we got!

MENR unfortunately did not have any staff available for the
planned period but the WCS came to the rescue with group leaders, Wilna Figaro and Betty Cecile, volunteering to leave their families for a week to join Elke on the beach…they had no idea what they were in for!

From left to right: Wilna, Elke and Betty, photo David Rowat

The first day was a logistical nightmare! David, having just returned from the UAE had forgotten to defrost the tags and was still rubbing sleep out of his eyes when Elke, Wilna and Betty rocked up at his house at 7am while at Banyan Tree Resort, no one had left instructions with Security about our arrival.
By mid-day, all was on track again with Elke’s stress levels had reduced significantly!

Assuming her position from 2 years ago, on a large rock under a small coconut tree, Elke had a panoramic view of the beach to begin the long wait. Three turtles were spotted that day, a very good sign!
Panoramic view of the MCSS satellite tagging beach, photo Elke Talma

The first two turtles returned to sea without nesting after struggling on the rocks which form a barrier at low tide; the third made it to the nesting platform and began to lay shortly after 17:30pm. With sunset at 18:30, it was decided to let her be, as we did not want to be fooling around with epoxy glue and an unhappy turtle in the dark. DeeDee (SCA0860) finally made it to the sea at 18:23 giving the team just enough time to make it to dinner in the staff canteen.

DeeDee the turtle, heading off into the Sunset, photo Elke Talma.

After 10 hours on the beach on Tuesday, there was nothing to report on the beach or from the surrounding waters. David Deny, our man-Friday from 2007 and caretaker at the Xanadu Private Resort, predicted that we would not see a turtle until Friday!
In desperation, Elke expanded the search area to a second beach and at 16:50 got a call from an exited Wilna, that a turtle was emerging at Xanadu.

Dr. David Rowat was called from a cocktail with the British High Commission and despite the lateness, it was decided that we would tag her anyway under the glow of a battery powered tube light - an experience never to be repeated!!!!

Just enough light to get by, but never to be repeated, photo Betty Cecile

At 20:10 the 90.5cm hawksbill turtle
(SCA0862), now named Wilna after her finder, was released complete with her satellite tag firmly fixed after just 1hr and 30 minutes of being restrained by Elke and all. It was low tide by then, and the tired, scared and confused turtle wedged herself under a rock in a shallow rock-pool on the exposed reef some 10 metres from the sea.

Elke and David, rushed to her rescue, concerned for the turtle's safety but also for the Euro 5,000 tag! Finally, Wilna the turtle and her new accessory made it out to sea and an exhausted turtle tagging team realised that they had missed dinner in the Banyan Tree canteen!

Getting to bed at nearly midnight, Elke took an executive decision to sleep in the following day. After a leisurely breakfast, the team of ladies arrived on the beach at 07:45 only to find a turtle entering the nesting platform. Oh joy!! Elke was still recovering from her injuries after trying to restrain Wilna the turtle the previous night!

However, in daylight things were a lot less stressful making it easier to deal with this turtle (SCA0864),
now known as Betty ... it also helped that she was significantly smaller!

By the time Dr. David arrived on site, Betty the turtle had just started laying and David Deny was on hand to assist with logistics. Michelle Martin, also from the WCS, and her kids had been invited and were there to provide moral support for what was an anticipated long wait that day.

The two David's capturing Betty the turtle in the 'box' as she emerged from the nesting platform, photo Elke Talma.

Betty the turtle was also restrained for 1hr and 30 minutes while the tag was attached and with lots of additional hands, Elke could take a breather - funny how it took 6 people to hold the smaller turtle though!
The WCS ladies (from left to right Michelle, Wilna and Betty) and Betty the turtle, photo Elke Talma

After being released, Betty the turtle safely made it out to open water with a bit of guidance and maneuvering to get around the raised reef by Dr. David assisted by Noah, Michelle's son.

Dr. David pointing the way around the reef while Noah Jean-Louis assists in getting Betty the turtle back to sea, photo Betty Cecile

The new satellite tags are already transmitting and both turtles are alive and well; we will keep you posted on the progress of Wilna and Betty, the hawksbill turtles from Seychelles.

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