Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Will...the guy with the lucky charm!

Since the beginning of the turtle nesting season, no turtles had been encountered yet...but turns out Will our newest volunteer had the lucky charm, on his first patrol...the first encounter was also recorded!
Below is his description of his experiences so far.....
First day on patrol
My name is Will, I am 22 and from England. Having just graduated from university with a BSc in geography I was ready to go out and use my acquired skills to help the world, which was when I applied to be a volunteer at MCSS. I have been in the beautiful nation of the Seychelles for just over a week now, working with MCSS at their Banyan Tree Resort conservation centre in the south of Mahe.

Among other things, I am largely involved in the sea turtle monitoring programme. This consists of morning patrols along some of the main nesting beaches here in the south of Mahe, where the critically endangered hawksbill turtle comes to lay eggs. The Seychelles is one of only two places in the world where the hawksbill nests during the day, whilst other species nest at night - including the green turtle, which also nests locally.
First turtle for the season
During a patrol we are looking for distinctive tracks in the sand where a turtle has hauled itself up the beach and beyond the high tide line to dig a body pit, lay eggs and then re-cover and camouflage the site before returning to the sea. Track widths are measured as an indication of the turtle’s size and the nest is GPS recorded for future monitoring.
If we are lucky (as I was on only my first day!), we may find a turtle mid-way through nesting. During this time it is very important to abide by the ‘turtle watchers code of practice’ so as not to disrupt such a delicate and vital process. Namely this involves: approaching from behind, moving slowly and staying quiet, maintaining a respectful distance and not surrounding or trapping the turtle in anyway, giving it a clear path to the sea at all times. Once the turtle has begun laying, we approach to collect data on the size of the carapace (shell top) and check the animal for any tags or damage. Photos are taken of both sides of the head, where a unique layout of scales acts as the ‘fingerprint’ of the turtle, allowing us to individually identify it in a computer database.

We have also recently begun using drones to patrol some of the more inaccessible beaches, particularly on the lookout for poachers. Unfortunately, poaching of sea turtles is still a major global issue, despite their internationally protected status and even here in the island paradises of the Seychelles. To think how someone could murder such a beautiful, innocent and defenceless creature is completely beyond me.
second encounter on Anse Bazarca
Sea turtle monitoring programmes here and around the world are of great importance if we are to conserve these critically endangered animals, whose populations continue to decline, mostly due to our own shortcomings - poaching, pollution, over-development and habitat destruction. The threat of global climate change will also continue to hamper turtle populations as sea levels rise, drowning previously viable nesting sites and raising beach temperatures, which are believed to be causing an imbalance in gender ratios (turtle hatchling sex is determined by temperature in the nest, with temperatures above ~29C resulting in females and below in males). Moreover, there is likely to be more adverse effects not yet accounted for or understood - e.g. This season has been especially slow to start, with only half the number of turtle nests recorded compared to the same time in the previous few years.
off she goes!
I feel extremely fortunate to take part in this important work and to witness a nesting turtle on my first day and again on my fifth. To sit next to and closely watch such an incredibly beautiful, graceful and endangered animal is a true privilege, providing memories I shall cherish forever.
I can only hope that our work and that of the global conservation community is enough to ensure the survival of this prehistoric creature long into the future. These environments and the species that occupy them are so stunning, but also so fragile, we cannot afford to take them for granted or we will lose vital keystones in the ecosystem and indeed essential elements that make living on Earth such a pleasure. 

she drew in a crowd for sure!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Beach cleaning and clearing of nesting sites

As usual, the Turtle monitoring team gives Mother Nature a helping hand with the nesting turtles being the main beneficiaries.
Special Forces Unit & MCSS team
This year we got the special help of a group of tough guys from the Special Forces Unit, though not present on site today, all of this was possible through the great organisation and corporation of Major Archil Mondon who put the team together.
As most of the nesting beaches are usually cleaned often by some cleaning agencies, though some r rubbish was still collected, the main focus was on the removal of natural debris like dried up vegetation to allow easy access through the vegetation especially for the nesting Hawksbill turtles.

Removal of natural debris
MCSS girls clearing vegetation
Usually the Hawksbill turtles start making an appearance during September but so far it is still very quiet and only one set of tracks was seen along with a nest on one of the nesting beaches.... nonetheless we're keeping our fingers crossed in hope of encountering our first nesting turtle for the season and though obviously the nesting season is starting a bit later than usual, we are hopeful that eventually we will have a productive season in general.

Selfie time ...Team MCSS