Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hatching on Anse Corail, Monday 21st November 2011

Join our two French students, Marieke Foissart, Charline Comparini from AgroCampus, Renne, as they describe their first turtle hatchlings…..

This morning we saw our first turtle nest hatching on Anse Corail. It was a really good experience to see all these small turtles running on sand and scrambling over all the obstacles.

Footprints are like giant craters to a hatchling...

It’s really impressive how very small things for us cause big troubles to them: foot prints, coconuts, rocks and rubbish are a real nightmare for them!

And small rocks are mountain ranges!

Once they hatched, they begin a really funny dash across the beach. Who’s going to be the first in water?! Nothing is settled yet… It depends on the goodwill of waves and currents.

Two of the hatchlings make it to the sea...

Unfortunately, only twenty one young turtles from this nest made it to the water; three were too weak and died and twenty one eggs hadn't hatched.

But still that's 21 new turtles at large!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beach Profiling With the International School

It is certainly an interesting time of year to be beach profiling at Beau Vallon! Now that the North West monsoon season has arrived the sea in Beau Vallon Bay has become pretty rough and the beach is beginning to change shape quite dramatically.

Georgia explaining how to set up the beach profile

Today Georgia French (Project Coordinator) and Uzice Samedi (Researcher) took a group of 20 students from the International School on a beach profiling trip to teach them the methods behind the technique. Beach profiling is used to measure the slopes of different sections of the beach. MCSS profiles several beaches every month so that we can see how the beaches are changes in shape over time.This is important for nesting turtles as the shape of the beach effects how easy it is for female turtles to crawl up it to lay their eggs. For example, erosion of the sand by the sea can cause erosion cliffs to form (demonstrated in section B to C in the diagram below) which can be impossible for turtles to climb.

Erosion can also wash away sections of the beach that turtles have already laid in, destroying their nests. However, beaches are not constantly eroding, there is also sand accretion where sand is deposited on the beach, making it bigger. It all depends on the monsoon season and if any coastal engineering has been undertaken on or near a beach. Coastal engineering can include building sea walls, jetties and groins. These structures change the way that the sea water moves around a shore line and so effects how sand is eroded or accreted.

To measure the beach profile, you need two ranging poles, an Abney Level, a measuring tape, data forms and pencils. Clipboards are very helpful when it is windy as it was today! Each section of the beach is measured and using the poles and Abney level, it is possible to measure the slope (in degrees and minutes) of each beach section. If a section of the beach is flat, the Abney level will read zero degrees, if it sloping down the Abney level will give a negative reading in degrees and minutes and so on.

Two students get to grips with the Abney level

The information gathered on the beach is then put into our beach profile software which produces graphs of the beach profile for us. MCSS will hopefully be starting a new project on coastal erosion in the coming year funded by Mangroves For the Future. This will enable us to get new hi-tech equipment and software that will give us a much better idea of sand movement patterns around Mahé which will allow us to give good advice to coastal managers and developers.
The team hard at work profiling Beau Vallon beach

Everybody did a great job at the measuring today and it was lovely to see everyone helping each other out. Special thanks has to go to those brave enough to hold the pole at the last point of the profile as this was in the sea!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Folied! An attempted poaching incident!

MCSS carry out Turtle Monitoring patrols on selected beaches in the South of Mahé which involves walking the full length of the beach at the vegetation line to check for any turtles or turtle tracks. We carry out turtle monitoring patrols throughout the year and increase the patrols to three times a week during the peak nesting season (October to January) for Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The purpose of the turtle monitoring patrol is to collect data in order for us to increase our knowledge of turtle populations to help protect them further. An additional benefit of our turtle monitoring patrols is that our presence on beaches can deter poachers.

Yesterday, during the usual turtle monitoring patrol, Uzice and Cathrina came across something wrong on Anse Bazarca. There was a hawksbill turtle track going up the beach but not going down. Instead there was a pseudo turtle track, suggesting the cunning poachers knew that the beach would be later patrolled. Our experienced staff spotted the imitation track straight away, most likely made by the attempting poachers.

The real up track on the left and the phoney down-track on the right...

This led Uzice to check the vegetation thoroughly and fortunately, found the hawksbill turtle lying on its back. A turtle on its back is unable to right itself and is the traditional way of immobilising a turtle to collect later (to turn turtle?), presumably in this case, when less people are around.

The turned-turtle, on its back stranded until the poachers returned, or someone rescued her!

Thankfully, we were there to rescue the turtle and Uzice carefully returned the turtle the right way up so that she could make her way back to the sea. Cathrina and Uzice made sure they watched the turtle safely returned to the sea.

Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered and granted full protection under the Wild Animals (Turtles) Protection Act (1994). However, they are still being poached in the main for their meat. This is surprising as the hawksbill meat can be poisonous!

Right-way up and heading back to the beach, sea and safety!

The sad fact is that nesting turtles appear to be a target and usually poached prior to being able to lay. Hawksbill turtles can take from 25 to 30 years to mature and can lay between three and five egg clutches with an inter-breeding interval of a minimum of two years. Therefore, poaching nesting turtles are having greater impacts on the turtle population.

Safely on her way back to sea...
All at MCSS are extremely happy that we have prevented this attempted poaching from being successful and we have helped one more turtle back to sea.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Friendly and Brave Yellow-Bellied Terrapin!!!!!

During one of our surveys for our coastal development project funded by the Mangroves for the Future, assistant Researcher Cathrina Freminot made a rather un-expected discovery...

"For how long his been sitting here?
What is he doing here?
That’s the questions I am still asking myself….."

The 30 of September 2011 a lucky day for Cathrina (me) (Assistant Researcher), Rebecca (Work attachment Student) and Laura (Senior Researcher).

The little terrapin hiding in a corner in the shade, next to the bridge

As I was working along the footpath at Bayan Tree for the Turtle survey walk on the Beach, I spotted a brave Yellow- Bellied Terrapin next to the side of a bridge, in the shade, I shouted “oohhh it’s a terrapin” . Laura turned back with a big smile on her face, and Rebecca was so happy since it was her first terrapin.

Cathrina with the feisty little terrapin

Laura ran to the car to get all the equipment. We gathered together to get the measurement, paint a part of its carapace with nail varnish to give it a distinctive mark for any resighting, and we took some pictures to identify its gender. It was the smallest one that we’ve encountered so far. He had got loads of sand in his eyes, as his been fighting to find his way back to the wetland, so we gently washed him off..

Length: 14.5 cm
Width: 9.5 cm
Carapace Length: 15.6 cm
Colour: Gold
Gender: Male

After doing all the procedures I walked closer to the wetland and released him, he was so happy and swam very fast.

All measured and marked with his gold margin mark, he was ready to go!

Am so glad that we got the chance to help the terrapin out of harm.


Big thanks to Rebecca Hoareau and Laura Jeffreys.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Relocating a Hawksbill nest with an invented Spade

For the two months of work attachment here at MCSS, I’ve been doing turtle monitoring in the South of Mahe, which is done on Tuesdays and Fridays. But on Friday 30th of September, it was the luckiest and amazing day of my life since that I have never seen a turtle egg in my life. I was accompanied by the MCSS staff, Cathrina Freminot and Laura Jeffreys.

It was fun walking along the beaches looking for turtle tracks. But the hard work started as we came to the Anse Corail beach. There we realised that the turtle nest that was laid last week was being in danger of getting damaged by the sea, due to the fact that when its high tide the sand is being removed on the nest and the hawksbill eggs might get spoilt with the sea water, also if the eggs get a lot of seawater it deprives them of oxygen.

So Laura, Cathrina and I (Rebecca) decided to relocate the turtle’s nest to where it would be much safer and away from danger. Even though we’d made the right choice, it was quite difficult to look for a new place as the beach was full of coconut trees roots and this makes it hard to dig a new nest.
Rebecca surveys the marked eggs ready for moving to the new nest

Finally, we found a nice warm and shaded little place under a coconut tree for these little ones. Now the hard work begins, where we have to dig the hole for the new turtle nest. While digging I encountered an old turtle nest which was not that far from the new one, so we were able to count the shells that the hatchlings had come out of. There were 140 turtle egg shells.

While Cathrina and Laura were digging the new turtle nest to a depth of 67 cm, the same as the old one, I went looking for a spade at some houses near by because the area where the new nest was dug was hard with all the roots, but it was bad luck for me as no one was home.

Egg translocation under way

So, I’ve improvised a new spade by using the part of a coconut tree fond, so I could dig the nest and then scoop out the sand in the nest with a coconut husk.

Rebecca digging the nest with her improvised spade

Finally we relocated all the eggs in the new nest and covered them with sand. Actually there were 158 eggs, but only 154 were relocated due to the fact that 4 were already predated by crabs.

After all ,we were all proud of the hard team effort and went home with a big smile on our face.


Friday, September 16, 2011

ISS students to the rescue...

Our work-attachment students from the International School Seychelles were a part of a green turtle nest relocation this last week, and spent some considerable time helping to move the eggs to a safe location…

It was the first of the six beaches where we had found a green turtle nest. Unfortunately, it was situated near the shore line at Anse Grand Police where it was in harms way. Knowing that the tide would come up, it was critical that we had dig up the nest and relocate it into a safer place. After an hour of digging in all of the wrong places, Uzice finally came across a broken green turtle egg shell which gave us a clue that we were close. Digging in that direction, we suddenly touched upon the green turtle nest.

The team carefully excavate the area looking for the nest

By highlighting a dot on the top of every single egg, we were able to know the right way up before being carefully removing each egg. Once all 76 eggs had been placed on a plastic carrier bag, they were transferred further up the beach, away from the upcoming tides. Carefully bringing the eggs to the new location which was naturally protected by a sand bank, we gently placed them down before starting to dig the new hole, which had to be dug exactly to 82 cm as the nest environment had to be kept accurate.

Once we had dug the hole to the right size and depth, we passed the slightly indented egg shells (the last out of the nest) and put them in first. Then we put the undented shells in being careful to put them the right way up.

The translocated eggs in their new nest

We covered the egg chamber with sand and lightly patted it down so as not to crush the eggs, and then we marked the nest with a marker and took an accurate GPS reading to ensure us that we could easily relocate the nest if needed.

The completed nest and triumphant team (less Laura who took the photos)!

A well earned ice-cream on the way back to base!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Its all in the tracks.....

Our Maritime training Centre Students, Dainise Quatre and Rebecca Hoareau, are fitting right in with our monitoring programmes and picking up the basics quickly, here's their short intro to some of the activities they were involved in this last week....

On Tuesday 6th of September 2011 at around 7.30 am, we went for our first turtle monitoring walk in the south of Mahe. It was a very sunny day. As you may know, we had to monitor 14 beaches to see if there were any turtles, nest and tracks.

We were very excited because it was our first experience of turtle monitoring. We were accompanied by Uzice and Laura. At 8.13 we arrived on our first beach which was Anse Parnell, and then Uzice explained to us about the turtle code of conduct and how to fill the turtle monitoring form. The last beach was at Mme Trojans.

Uzice explains about turtle monitoring and the code of conduct

Unfortunately, we patroled all the 14 beaches without seeing any turtles, which we were looking forward to, especially the two types, hawksbill and green turtle also the turtles nest here, so we were hoping to see their behavior and tracks.

Uzice, Dainise and Rebecca striding out across one of the 14 beaches....

We discovered that there were a lot of dog tracks and some litter that has been washed on the beach by the waves. Even though we did not encounter any turtles on that day, we enjoyed and learned about a lot of beaches that we had never known existed here on Mahe.

No tracks but lots of litter..... where are all the right flip-flops?

Were hoping that during our two months of work experience here at MCSS, we will be able to encounter a turtle nesting.

We wish that the public would be more concerned about preserving these species, especially stop destroying their habitats and throwing litter around!

At least the beaches are cleaner after an MCSS turtle patrol!

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Turtle Named ‘Gold Finger’ .....

MCSS Senior Researcher Laura Jeffreys describes the discovery of some of Seychelles rarest turtles....

For some while now MCSS have been implementing a project funded by Mangroves for the Future on protecting coastal bio-diversity. As a component of this, we have been searching the wetlands, streams and freshwater ponds around Beau Vallon, Mahé for native mud turtles.
One of the BeauVallon wetland areas, ideal mud turtle habitat...

The search commences every evening just before dusk when we ‘the MCSS team’ place a modified traditional Seychellois fish trap in a freshwater pond/wetland. To encourage the mud turtle into the trap, a tin of tuna in oil is placed inside. The oil helps the smell of the tuna to carry across the freshwater.

Gareth Jeffreys has the important and dangerous role of placing the fish trap. This involves securing the fish trap to ensure it is able to float in a set position whilst still providing air to the mud turtle should they enter the trap (as they require air to breathe). The dangerous element is that we like to place the fish trap out of sight to prevent it being visible to passers-by and on this occasion meant that Gareth had to balance precariously on an old rotten fallen log. Gareth successfully balanced himself and has yet to experience falling in!

As usual, we patiently wait overnight (as does the mud turtle should it have entered the fish trap). At 6am, we wake up eagerly with the hope of a mud turtle. Gareth, once again expertly balances on the log to retrieve the fish trap. Abi March and myself wait in anticipation for whichever comes first: either the first sighting of the mud turtle through the fish cage; or the confirmation call from Gareth. We both glowingly received Gareth’s verification that we had a small crab and a mud turtle. The MCSS Team were all particularly delighted as during our journey to the freshwater pond, Abi had predicted either three mud turtles or none!!! Obviously, we hadn’t liked the sound of these odds. Thankfully, Abi’s prediction was wrong.
An endemic yellow-bellied mud turtle from Beau Vallon

It was a yellow-bellied mud turtle also known has chestnust-bellied mud turtle (Pelusios castanoides ssp. Intergularis) which is categorised as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. We checked on the sex of the yellow-bellied mud turtle by checking the length of the tail and confirmed he was a male. His measurements were as follows: length of 20cm, width of 13.5cm and carapace length of 22.2cm. The carapace is the top of the shell which is an arc shape.
Gareth taking note of Gold Finger's vital statistics

In order for us to be able to tell that we have already taken this mud turtle’s measurements, we marked him with gold nail varnish before releasing him back in his pond to help us ID him in the future, hence the name Gold Finger!
Gareth releasing GoldFinger, without falling off the log!

Although protected by Seychelles Law, the population is deemed to be decreasing and threats to the species include habitat loss through drainage of wetlands, as well as reduced quality of habitats due to pollution and rubbish dumping. Unfortunately, the location of where we found Gold Finger appears to be a dumping ground for disused household goods like fans and even a washing machine.

I’m not sure if I have successfully described our delight but to provide you with some context may help. We were particularly ecstatic as the yellow-bellied mud turtle is native to Seychelles and is critically endangered: “...endemic to islands in the Seychelles. It is found on Mahé, Cerf, Praslin, La Digue, Fregate and Silhouette islands… In 2002, the total population was estimated at less than 100 adults, distributed throughout six isolated populations” (IUCN 2011).

As you may now appreciate, we were a very happy MCSS team knowing to have found one yellow-bellied mud turtle, Gold Finger, from an estimated population of less than 100!

Post Script: Another two yellow bellied mud turtles were captured from the same site two days after ‘Goldfinger’, one of which was over 1.5cms bigger than Goldfinger... so that's three out of the expected population of 100!
The two latest yellow-bellied mud turtles!

The Mystery of Betty May Be Revealed

In December 2009, MCSS deployed two satellite tags on nesting turtles in the South of Mahé; the turtles were named Betty and Wilna after the two volunteers from WCS who assisted us in the tagging operation.

Betty heading back out to sea with her new satellite tag in December 2009

Wilna headed North East and found her foraging ground some 100km from Mahé, while after only two weeks Betty, went missing in action!

We were still in contact with Betty’s tag for several weeks, but the signal was too weak to get a good fix on her position and we suspected that Betty has been killed by poachers, with her carapace dumped in the bushes (hence the weak signal) somewhere in the South of Mahé.

On the 7th of September staff from the Department of the Environment found a badly damaged Mk 10 AF tag among the rocks at Anse Bazarca. They brought the tag to MCSS and we have been able to confirm the tag number as being Betty’s tag…

Betty's tag recovered in September 2011, a lot the worse for wear...

While one end of the tag has been badly damaged, probably by the blows of a machete, the circuit board and memory of the tag appear to be intact and so we may yet find out what Betty was doing in her last few weeks of life before succumbing to one of South Mahe’s turtle poachers….

The tag was badly damaged but the memory chips seem to be intact....

Watch this space for further updates!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Every year nesting turtles swim all the way from their feeding grounds back to the beach where around 35 years ago they were hatched. During that time a female turtle can carry approximately 1500 eggs of different sizes ready to be fertilized and later deposited in the sand for incubation.

In the Seychelles archipelago, the endangered green turtle nest all year round, whereas the critically endangered hawksbill turtle nest seasonally. The Nesting Turtle Season which started on the 16th July 2010 has come to an end on the 15th July 2011. The first turtle encounter for the 2010-2011 seasons was recorded on the 18th August 2010 by the former MCSS Researcher Devis Monthy. A green turtle track was recorded at Anse Petite Boileau, unfortunately there was no indication that the turtle has laid even though there was evidence of digging in the area.

During the same routine patrol a number of Hawksbill turtle tracks were also recorded on several beaches in the southern region of Anse Grande Police, Petite Police etc.

Altogether a grand total of 84 routine weekly patrols for turtle emergences were conducted during the season by MCSS and other stakeholders in the turtle monitoring programmes.

The last nesting turtle emergence was recorded in the early hours of the 13th July 2011 at Anse Takamaka with a low tide. The hawksbill turtle was unable to dig its body pit as the emergence was to close to an establishment.

The photo above shows the set of turtle tracks leading back to sea. Luckily the table wasn’t in the area when the emergence occurred.

Almost three weeks prior to that emergence, at Anse Riviere Gaspar two hawksbill turtle successfully laid their last clutch of eggs for the season before heading out at sea again to their feeding grounds.

Upward and downward tracks from the emergence

MCSS Researcher measuring the tracks

Friday, June 3, 2011

Earth Day Activities

To commemorate the International Earth’s Day on the 22nd April, the Banyan Tree Resort situated at the Intendance beach in the South-Western coast of Mahe organized a tree planting activity and Exhibition with the participation of the Hotel Staff.

The activity kicked off in the morning with tree planting by the Resort Staff, Management and visitors staying at the Hotel. A total of approximately 100 different plant species mostly seedlings were planted throughout the Resort compound area. The aim of the activity was to rehabilitate some areas at the Resort with young plants.

Visitors to the exhibition

An Exhibition was also set up and displayed by the wetland area, to illustrate some activities conducted by the Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles (MCSS) as well as its aim and objectives. The Intendance beach is one of the southern beaches of the Island that are being monitored by the MCSS Staff during the annual turtle nesting season, (September-February). Every week MCSS personnel patrol the nesting beaches in the South of Mahe for presence of nesting turtle or turtle tracks (Hawksbill or Green). The presence of MCSS staff at those nesting area also deters any poaching activity. Nesting is a time when a turtle is most vulnerable to be poached. All the patrols, tracks, turtles and nests are recorded and entered into MCSS turtle database.

The Intendance area is also one of the four sites being used in a new study being implemented by MCSS and GIF to provide better environmental information to both local communities and technical experts to assist the planning process. This project is the first Large Project funded by the Mangroves for the Future in Seychelles and will be on-going for 24 months and we will keep you updated of activities.

The newly recruited MCSS project staff, Researcher Uzice Samedi and Asistant Researcher Ms Catherina Freminot, were also present to provide the Hotel Staff and guests with information regarding the conservation and protection of marine species. Brief information was also given of how one should behave when encountering a nesting turtle on the beach, be it day or night in order for it to successfully complete the nesting process. A small hand-bag with educational items about conservation was also given to all the participants for their efforts, courtesy of the Hotel Management.
The exhibition and souvenirs given to the participants

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Erosion Cliff Nest rescue

After receiving a call on the MCSS hotline from a diligent member of the public about some turtle eggs in peril on one of our South Mahe monitored beaches, myself and GVI volunteer Brian Kneafsy went to the rescue. It turns out that the nice, safe place where a turtle chose to lay her eggs was not so nice and safe anymore due to the appearance of a large erosion cliff caused by changing tides. The sand had been completely washed away, taking the majority of the eggs with it and leaving the remainder partly exposed to the elements.

The exposed nest clearly visible in the erosion cliff, photo Georgia French

Obviously this is not conducive to nesting success so the eggs had to be moved further back on the beach into a new egg chamber created by us. Because the eggs were obviously quite well developed, it was critical that they remained in the same position that they were found in to avoid killing the developing embryos. To make sure that they remained in the correct position, we marked the top of each one with a small dot so that we knew which way up to place them in their new home.

The recovered eggs with their orientation 'top' marks, photo Georgia French

Unfortunately, only 16 eggs were left from the entire clutch which would typically contain around 150. But still, every egg counts!

Each egg was carefully removed, marked and placed onto a cloth before transporting a few feet back from the edge of the cliff.

The new nest safely back from the high-water line, photo Georgia French

They were then delicately placed into the new chamber with all of the dots facing up before being covered with sand. Staff from a nearby establishment were told of the move and are now on the look-out for any hatchlings that may have survived.

The relocated eggs, safely in their new nest, photo Georgia French

Erosion cliffs cause big problems for nesting turtles as they can not only expose nests that have already been laid but can prevent females from making it up the beach to the nesting platform in the first place. Hopefully in this case we got there in time and 16 new turtles will be able to make it to the sea.
.... Georgia

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Day of the Turtle

The fifth of January was the first turtle patrol of 2011 and was a fantastic way to start the year which I think will be very hard to beat indeed.

On the way to the first beach of the day, we first have to drive past several of our other ‘priority’ beaches which we are currently monitoring twice a week. As usual I looked out the window of the truck as we went past these beaches to check for any turtle activity. I was very alarmed to notice a fresh looking turtle track with two dogs at the top of it. After we hastily reversed the truck and ran to the beach, we found a disturbing and sadly, fairly regular occurrence. Dogs had been digging up the freshly laid nest of a hawksbill turtle.

Dog tracks following a fresh turtle track was not a good sign... photo Georgia French

As the nest had already been partially dug up (thankfully they had not reached the egg chamber) and was in an area that may be inundated by water during high tide, the decision was made to relocate the nest to higher ground. We counted a very impressive 182 eggs and judging by the track width, this was a pretty big female, in all likelihood over 50 years of age. It would have been a great pity indeed if the dogs had attacked and killed this incredible animal.

Caroline and Leon translocating the eggs to a safer location, photo Georgia French

After successfully relocating the nest, it was off to monitor the rest of the beaches. As soon as we set foot on our second beach of the day we saw a very long track meandering from a relatively low tide line to the beach crest vegetation. A single track – we had a turtle!

A single very long track was a good indication of a turtle still nesting in the vegetation, photo Georgia French

Upon careful closer inspection we determined that the female was still looking for the perfect spot to lay her eggs. As it turned out, it took two hours for this fussy female to choose a good place, dig her nest, lay and cover her eggs. It didn’t help that she managed to get very tangled in some vines when she attempted to return to the sea. After giving her a helping hand, it was a pleasure (and a bit of a relief!) to watch her return safely to the ocean. This female already had tags on both flippers so I could ID her from our tagged turtle data set. It turns out that she was last spotted laying eggs on a completely different beach, just over five years ago! Her carapace has also grown by 2.5cm in that time.

Elated after encountering this turtle we walked right to the other end of the beach where we found something very special indeed...our first hatchling! Most of the other hatchlings had already left the nest judging by the empty egg shells and tiny tracks.

One tired little hatchling was left all alone for the march down the beach, photo Georgia French

That left this little guy to make the trip down the beach by itself, to much enchanted oohing and aahing on our part. It’s very hard not to ‘help’ such a vulnerable looking animal by carrying safely down the beach to the sea but it is important to let them make this journey for themselves.

The hatchling makes it safely down the beach, photo Georgia French

The rest of the beaches yielded only a few tracks and we began to feel a little despondent when it started to rain heavily on our last beach of the day. I looked up, shielding my eyes from the rain and saw what I first took to be a large group of crabs. I wondered why they were all heading towards the sea.....hatchlings!

It was fantastic to see a big group all rushing towards the sea together, needless to say we completely forgot about the rain!

What a fantastic day!