Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Peak of the nesting season

Nesting Hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill turtle heading back safely
Halfway through the 2015-2016 Hawksbill nesting season........... it's been quite a busy one so far. This includes rushing in to work early morning and leaving the beach late in the afternoon....past normal working hours! But turtle encounters are top on our wishing list and  we are so happy that we've had 30 encounters so far in total on the main nesting beaches.

Poaching incidents have unfortunately been reported on a few occasions, but this past Sunday was a sad one as well as I was informed by the Greenline that we had an injured turtle on one of the South beaches, I didn't waste much time and drove straight down to attend to it. However when I got there the turtle had been helped back into the sea by a couple of tourist. The Hawksbill turtle was attacked by three dogs and all I found was a bloody trail heading back to sea left behind.
The bloody trail from the injured turtle

The journey begins
Our first nests are starting to hatch, we had our first one this morning which had approximately a total of 129 eggs and 40 of the little cuties were still trying to get out. Seeing that the nest had just been dug up by a dog, we immediately helped them to start their journey. It is hoped that the others had already left otherwise they could have sadly been easy prey for the dogs.

So the MCSS team remains on the look out for any turtle activities, patrolling the main nesting beaches almost everyday. For a quick update on the redeemed bottles.....we had almost R400 worth of bottles and cans which goes towards the MCSS funds....not an extreme effort..... all you need to do is care for the environment and simply love your job!

Mary helping to count the bottles 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The things we do for the environment!

Your egg chamber is too small!!
This week, I had three turtle encounters, one on Anse Corail and two on Anse Intendance.  The encounter on Anse Corail was a lucky encounter as we came across her nesting while we were just as we were patrolling the beach.  This turtle must have been desperate to lay her eggs: she dug 4 body pits before she started laying, and her eggs were overfilling her egg chamber!  We had to relocate 43 of her 168 eggs to keep her from accidently crushing them as she covered her nest.

The two encounters on Anse Intendance were thrilling.  I was the sole turtle researcher who was available to respond to the turtle call on Tuesday, as the other researchers were on another beach with a different turtle. A couple of tourists were very distressed when I raced down to the beach not knowing I was a researcher.  I thanked them later for that response; that is exactly how we want watchers on the beach to respond so that people will stay away from turtles on a beach.
The very next night, while I was at the hotel and waiting for guests to arrive for the Manager’s Cocktail hour, a turtle was spotted coming up the beach.  After getting my Trimble and measuring tape, I went to the beach to try to keep the guests low to the ground and behind the turtle.  The sight of the turtle and the setting sun over the water had attracted over 25 excited guests!  Many of them asked questions and were shocked to learn that sea turtles lay 150-200 ping-pong ball sized/shaped eggs in each nest and will nest about 4-5 times during a nesting season.  That’s between 600-1000 eggs in a season! (This turtle laid 156 that night.)
Nesting Hawksbill turtle
As the sun went down, most of the watchers went back to their villas, and I was left just with the stars and a turtle on the beach.  It was an amazing experience.
We had a French journalist named Therry visit MCSS this week.  He writes for a French magazine called QOA that covers eco-volunteerism, and Therry was interested in interviewing me and a couple other MCSS volunteers.  He asked me about how I heard about MCSS and what motivated me to volunteer in Seychelles.  I told him that I used MCSS as an example of science research teamed with ecotourism back when the whale shark monitoring project was working with a dive center in Mahe to offer encounters with whale sharks to both tourists and scientists.  From there, my interest in Seychelles grew, and when I learned about the turtle monitoring project, I jumped at the chance to volunteer.  Lynn and I walked through the wetlands with Therry, and he joined us on the turtle patrol for the day. The issue that the article will be published in should come out in early 2016.  The magazine is geared towards French speaking young adults as an effort to get them more interested in eco-volunteerism abroad.  To be a part of a movement of young people who are traveling and volunteering is exciting!

Cans & pet bottles pick up!!
Lastly for this post, for the past 4 weeks, Vanessa and I have been collecting cans and bottles from around Mahe.  Some of the beaches that we monitor on our turtle patrol were covered when we started collecting, and we’ve found many in the Intendance wetlands.  Collecting them has cleaned up these areas and kept plastic out of the ocean.  Cans and bottles can be redeemed at recycling centers in Seychelles for 25 cents each.  Looks like our collection will fetch 100 rupees at least! We’ll be turning them in next week, and I’ll share the final amount we got from them when we find out.

Our collection ready to be redeemed!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hawksbill Nesting Season 2015-2016

Turtle Monitoring has been ongoing throughout the year and yesterday was a normal patrolling day and collection of rubbish on Anse Grand Police was my main focus for the day……at least I thought so…… until I turned around and saw my first Hawksbill turtle for this season  emerging from the sea! I got so excited as it is the first time I had an encounter straight up to start the season…..for the past seasons I always started off by observing tracks on the beaches and the encounters would come later.

I got my volunteer for the day… Lara to believe that she was the lucky charm…. But I have to say…they don’t call me ‘Turtle Magnet’ for nothing!

Lara observing the turtle track after measuring
Anyway we quickly gathered our necessary tools for data collection on our first encounter and watched as the Turtle tried and succeeded in pulling herself up an almost one metre erosion cliff…..though her hard work….the dry vegetation behind made it impossible for her to find a nice spot to start her digging process, so unfortunately the emergence was recorded as an ESBO (Emergence Stopped By Obstacle)…… but we have high hopes that she will definitely be back for other trials and eventually succeed in laying her eggs.

Turtle trying very hard to get over the erosion cliff

 It is thus with great joy and enthusiasm that we declare the Hawksbill Nesting Season officially open!!
Turtle exiting the beach

Monday, June 1, 2015

Maddy’s Gift

It seems hardly possible but it is two years since Maddy Cole, a bubbly MCSS Intern, Underwater Centre Divemaster and newly certified PADI Scuba Instructor was tragically taken from us by a boating accident of Pulau Perhentian Island, Malaysia.
However, through the determination of her family and friends, Maddy stays with us and through a fund known as Maddy’s Gift, her love of marine life is being continued through such worthy projects as supporting the purchase of a portable x-ray machine for the Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre under MCSS and the Seychelles Veterinary Services.
To remember Maddy this 27th May, the second anniversary of her passing, the staff and volunteers of MCSS marked the day with a silent flower service on one of the turtle nesting beaches that she patrolled with us. 

Always in our hearts and thoughts….

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Its a green!

Another contribution from Kristina our MSc student...

You remember there was a huge green turtle track on Grand Police? Just about two weeks later we had another one coming up; and this one did lay!! =) Plus, someone already saw the body pit and marked the area as a turtle nest. So generous that someone should put palm leaves around the body pit and hang a paper on one pillar of the shelter to warn that there is a nest. In fact, this was really good because it might make people more careful around the area but it does also mark the body pit as the nest instead of the actual nest. So, if some stupid people would decide to try and dig for eggs of harm the nest otherwise, they would only find sand. And maybe some crabs =) 
 Nicely marked sign for the turtle nest

The tracks were still visible and to be honest, the up- and the down-track were super close. The turtle must have just come up, dug and gone straight back down. Per se, this sounds logical and I didn’t really think that it was weird. BUT: greens are not hawksbills. That’s what I learned that day. Usually, green turtles will walk quite some way on the beach, make a lot of body pits, dig the nest, camouflage it really good, make another body pit and then go back down leaving a huge mess behind. This is why Vanessa first thought that she did not lay. But in the end it seemed very likely and we think that the nest is just next to the body pit (on that image above it would be to the left under the shelter). The sand showed all the characteristics; it was loose and looked like it has been recently moved.
The green turtle tracks, obscured by lots of human footprints

Can you make out the tracks on the picture? They are still visible. We assumed that the turtle came up one to two days prior to our patrol because they are visible but clearly not fresh anymore and there were a lot of human tracks around and over it. If tracks are quite fresh, it also helps to look where they start because that will be the water line at the time of emergence/exit. Then you can compare that with the current tide line and the tide table to get a rough time of emergence.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nearing the end of the season

It has been way too long since the last blog entry! Time is just flying by. 

However, today I am gonna take some time to get you up to date though you didn’t miss so much. Here on Mahe the nesting season is now pretty much over. Usually, hawksbill turtles will come from October to January though there might always be some early birds and some late runners as well. This year, we still had some turtles coming up until mid-February!! 

Most of the late ones were seen on Intendance which is the beach by the Banyan Tree Hotel, but we did have some on Grand Police and Bazarca as well. On Grand Police, we also had a huge green turtle in this period. This is not as special, because green turtles lay all year round, but is was enormous even for a green. We measured an average track with of 120cm! :) And the body pits she dug, Oh my gosh.. so huge and deep!! It was amazing to see. In fact, it has been so overwhelming that I forgot to take pictures, which is really not like me. Sorry for that! Well, just imagine two huge holes in the ground that you could easily fit in and that’s what she dug. Unfortunately we could not find a nest, but green turtles are very good in camouflaging so that I’ll still keep an eye open around that area. 

But enough about tracks, we had some hatchlings as well. Sooooo cute =) These are getting less and less because a lot of the nests have hatched already, but there still have been some in February and March. And yes, I remembered to take some pictures this time. There was one nest on Anse Corail where the hatchlings were still there. In fact, there have been so many of them that we needed to put them back in and leave them though not before taking a picture for you  :)  
 Aren’t they the cutest?
Anyway, it could have been that the hatchlings were waiting under the sand for a good opportunity to try getting into the sea. Even though the nest was in the shade, Anse Corail is a very hot beach and the sun might just have been too much. The hatchlings will notice such circumstances and wait for the sun to go often only leaving the nest at night. Savi and Alvine had to put all of the little hatchlings back into the nest and cover them up. And I can safely report that we came back after the weekend and all of them seem to have been able to make it into the ocean!! Happy endings do exist :)    
Savi and Alvine covering the nest back up

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My First Encounter!

We were just arriving at the Banyan Tree Hotel for our well-deserved lunch break. Making ourselves clean and thus ready to go for lunch, Vanessa had a look on to the beach and saw a turtle track. Per se, nothing really special for us since there were still quite a few tracks on the beaches during patrol. BUT: she followed the tracks thinking they look new and guess who was still on the beach? That’s right; a female hawksbill turtle getting ready to lay! When she came back and told me, I started screaming and not just any screaming but a really loud high-pitch screaming because it was so awesome I couldn’t believe it, my first turtle :-) Everything got light and I just wanted to run to her and have a look which would of course be the worst thing to do.

 While Vanessa informed Rachel and Imogen (from the Banyan Tree Conservation Centre who are the ones responsible for patrolling this beach), I tried to calm myself! We moved in closer to see her, staying at a point where she wouldn’t notice us observing her while she was doing a body pit. When two tourists arrived from the opposite side, Vanessa started waving like crazy and did the quietest half-jumping I’ve ever seen trying to get the tourists to stop. She gestured like a madman, but the tourists understood (‘though still looking confused) and went further down the beach towards the water. Then they came over to us wondering what was going on and finally saw the turtle. It’s crucial at this point that the turtle doesn’t notice us since she could feel threatened and just go back into the water without laying! Sooo, that explains the madness :-o And it had to be repeated quite a few times as  more and more tourists were walking along the beach, not knowing that they might cause the turtle to go back to the water if they came too close. This spectacle of course made everyone really interested and a huge group of people formed behind the female who was still trying to find the right spot. At one point she started moving and I thought “Oh my gosh, will she go now? Have we been too noisy behind her or has someone been in her field of vision? Is this it?”, but luckily it seemed that she was just not satisfied with the place. Maybe there were too many roots or some rocks in the sand. 

When she arrived at a second place, it got critical. She had started digging right on top of two other nests! If she dug in the wrong place, she would destroy the nests and dig the earlier eggs right out!! I started praying “Please do not destroy the other nests. You wouldn’t want that for yours neither. Please let the eggs be.....”. And it seemed to work. The turtle stayed above the two nest, dug the egg chamber and reeeeally took her time. 
Kristina counting eggs with the turtle laying between two other nest markers!
She was sooooo slow and took lots of breaks. It clearly was exhausting for her. This gave the chance for more tourists to come join the crowd and ask lots of questions that we were happy to answer. Especially the kids were really excited thus reflecting my inner state :-) And all the time, we just saw her back while she was digging, and digging, and digging. And all the time I was thinking “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, I wanna see your cheeks. Show me your cheeks. I wanna see your cheeks and see if I can recognize you!” which of course didn’t make her turn and come to me to show me her cheeks :-(  I was almost going nuts of wanting to know if we had seen her before or not. There was some white colour on the back of the carapace which I thought I had seen on one of the pictures I had. But I kept on saying to myself that it’s gonna be fine and I’ll see it eventually. 

Then when Imogen then asked if I want to count the eggs, I got even more excited and it seemed the kids would also have liked that! We slowly made our way closer to the turtle and once she stopped digging and prepared herself to lay, Vanessa and I got some more sand out of the way to enable a clear view of the eggs. I was laying flat on the sand counting eggs slowly coming out mostly one by one. Sometimes there were two or three coming out at once. While the turtle got into a trance-like state and Vanessa took pictures for later identification, I got pretty trance-like myself counting. 

At some point I got so covered in ants that I woke from my trance and tried to get rid of them while not losing sight of the eggs and I realized that everyone but me could now already see the cheeks. I was hallucinating already imagining how they could look like, seeing matched pictures in my software getting all excited of a possible re-encounter (hopefully between years as this means more data to investigate interesting periods). Besides all this, I noticed some of the tourists talking in German about the eggs, so I just jumped in and told them in German how many there were so far and a boy tried to count from where he was starting with that. After the turtle finished laying, she took all the time in the world to safely cover up the nest with sand. She did a good job and made sure both of the previous nests were nicely covered up as well (‘though I’m sure that was not intended :-). 

Sooooo, I still couldn’t see her cheeks which frustrated me, but I did not want to get into her vision now that she awoke from her trance. However, I used the chance to check the photographs that Vanessa had taken to see if they were good enough for identification. It could well be the case that there was a lot of sand on the turtle’s cheeks or that there was some reflection which would decrease the software’s ability to match the individual. The pictures were okay to use and I got a first cheek-glimpse that way :-) 

Nearly perfect ID photos of the left and right sides!
But still not the real ones… Then again, I did not have that much time to think about this since the German tourists realized that I am German as well and started asking a bunch of new questions and I was happy to explain. The boy who was so into counting the eggs before almost got upset realizing that the small ones would never know who their father was and that their mummy would not come back for them. 

Once hatched, the little turtles will have to find their own way. They won’t recognize any family members, but the females of them will know how to come back to this exact same beach for nesting. It really upset him and got him thinking which was so moving and sad in way, but this is how it works. Finally, the turtle was done recovering the nest and slowly, slowly made her way back into the ocean. While she was crawling back to the sea, I finally could get a look at both her cheeks and….recognized her!! That turtle really made my day. Not only was she the first encounter since I am here, but she also was in the data-base!! :-)     

Goodbye Interns, Hello Kristina!

The French interns have left and so now I will be taking over this blog, muhahaha : I’m Kristina and I will be here for the next couple of months writing my master thesis. What  will I be doing? Great that you ask! I will develop a photo-ID catalogue for the hawksbill turtles here on Mahe using the software I3S Pattern (it is similar to the one they use for whale sharks and works okay so far). Since it hasn’t been evaluated for turtles, my job is to test the software and see how good it performs:-) 
Anais (right) and Kristina (left) digging up the nest.

Some of you might miss the French interns writing here, so here’s a last post including one of them. It happened a couple of weeks back on my first patrol ever here. On the first step of the first beach of my first patrol, we happened to come across a nest right at the entry of the beach. 

There were quite a few dead hatchlings dug up BUT there also were a lot of them left alive. They did not look the best and were dehydrated. Usually, we do not help hatchlings because it is important that they imprint on that beach in order to be able to come back. However, these hatchlings really needed some help. We decided to help them out and leave them to try and make their way. Anaïs and me, we were digging up the nest and helping them to get out of the nest. After a while that they have been trying (or well, not really) Vanessa took them closer to the sea and watered them. From then on, they were able to make it and once in water, they seemed happy and were much more active :-) 

Hope you enjoyed a last French contribution; stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Little French Flavour!

Hello dear Fans of the turtle we are the new intern turtle monitoring team with a French style for a new nesting season!

We are the new volunteers to study the turtle with MCSS until February. Every day with Vanessa, we patrol on South Mahe Island beaches to find tracks and if we are lucky encounter turtle or hatching babies. 

This year MCSS decided to intensify the patrol to fight against the turtle poachers. Indeed, eating turtle is an old Christmas tradition for the Seychellois....... one tradition that MCSS is working hard to eliminate due to the continued decrease in turtle population.

Yesterday we were patrolling at Anse Cachée when we bumped into a laying Hawksbill turtle. While Anaïs was monitoring her, Vanessa and Hubert had been warned by the care taker of the property that there was a turtle in distress in the bushes. Running to rescue the poor animal, they found her turned upside down under a pile of coconut palm leaves. It is a method used by the poacher to avoid the turtle to escape when they wanted to kill her later and stay out of the people’s view. 
 The turtle turned upside down under the palm leaves 
The turtle was so weak, the team had to turn her over and carry her close to the beach. In the action, we saw a solid string attached to her back flipper. According to the tracks on the beach, we then understood the poachers had dragged her from the beach to the bushes by using the string. 

We dropped off the turtle next to the water and let her find the liberty again. We were all pleased to see the turtle swimming and really happy to have rescued her. 
Finally free!
It is not sure she will come back to lay on this beach again due to the amount of stress she has encountered on this trial …

Fortunately, it is the second time we rescued a turtle and hopefully, MCSS can count on people such as beach police and any friends of the turtles out there to keep an extra eye on the turtles during the nesting season and inform us on any harm brought to the turtles so that the situation can be dealt with promptly. 
Vanessa, Aurélia, Hubert and Anaïs rescuing the first poached turtle at Anse Corail the 9th December 

See you later for new adventure !

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nesting season 2014-2015

Another season filled with much excitement, enthusiasm but some heartbreaking moments as well. Tracks, nests and encounters....... these are all I have in mind whenever we are going out for the turtle walks! ....... This is every day except for the weekends. The numbers of patrols have increased as we have now included Tuesdays and Thursdays for anti – poaching patrols. This was decided a must after recording such a significant number of poaching incidents in the South of the island.

So much happening in so little time...... one day we save a turtle which was left upside down by poachers for later collection..... but we got there first.........
                             .......... and make it to the papers!

Then the next few days we find this........
 Too late this time......poachers win again!
We have had some really great moments as well, the little ones are coming out and you can imagine our excitement especially while finding this........   A little loner while digging up a nest for the egg clutch survival data....fortunately it was still full of life and managed to make it’s imprints on the beach before successfully entering the sea.
....... Good luck little one!