Monday, December 17, 2018

Blue Economy Internship students

It is with great pleasure that we have been hosting two students from the Blue Economy Internship Programme, who are both showing great interest in the work that we do, especially at the Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre where they are based. In the following blogs they share their experiences so far:

My first week at MCSS...

Hello! My name is Johnise Philoe, I’m 17 years old (well until next week), I live at Baie Lazare and I’m a Blue Economy intern with MCSS that is situated at the Banyan Tree Resort’s Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre. Being there for 2weeks will and is allowing me to experience, widen my knowledge and develop my skills towards the conservation and rehabilitation of Seychelles’ terrapins ( i.e. the yellow bellied and the black mud turtle species, also known as ‘Torti soupap’ in creole) and the different types of sea turtles ( but mostly about the hawksbill and green turtles since they are the only species which nests on the many beaches of the Seychelles).
 Stephie, Simi(volunteer) and Johnise with nesting turtle

Even though my first week of working at the Centre is almost over, there has been joyful, memorable, collective and even tiring moments, and lets just say that there are still more to come. These are some reasons as to why I wake up every morning to attend my working days there. 
Johnise measuring tracks

tagging a nest

My name is Stephie Dubel, I am 16 years old. And currently interning at MCSS (Marine Conservation Society Seychelles) on the south Mahe projects, is located at Banyan Tree.

It's been a week already since I've been working at the MCSS and throughout this week I managed to mastered as many as I could about Wildlife Conservation and the projects that are ongoing at the MCSS.
I've learnt that there's only two species of Terrapins in Seychelles! They are the Black mud Terrapin and Yellow -bellied Terrapin. Apparently I was told by the Animal welfare officer at MCSS Mr Max Bonfatti that these little creatures are critically endangered species facing a numerous threats through residential and commercial development, invasive spices and diseases, pollution and so on.

During this first week of interning I also learnt how to do the trapping which is very easy! In the afternoon you just put the traps in some different pond sites along with some bait in it and every morning we went by each of the pond sites to check if there's any Terrapins trapped inside. This is usually done twice daily.
The Terrapins that are caught in the traps are taken to the centre were they get measured and weighed later they get released back to the pond.

Furthermore, we also do daily patrol.
This is normally done in the morning. We use a Trimble to record any necessary data for example if we encounter a sea turtle nesting!
collecting encounter data on a nesting turtle

To my knowledge I was told that whenever you encounter a turtle nesting its better to stand behind  her rather than in front of her because, she might get stressed or feel threatened and return to the ocean if she notices your presence.

So far I am enjoying my experience. It's amazing how much I have come to learn in just one week. And I strongly believe that MCSS I doing a great job.
seeing off their first turtle encounter with  MCSS

Monday, December 3, 2018


-Get a bruise from a tortoise “running” into you 
Anna chatting with Armando

-Apply nail polish on a terrapin 
Terrapin spa!

-Hover in the bushes like a military, to count turtle eggs 
observing a nesting turtle

Let’s start from the beginning. We are Astrid and Anna, from Sweden and Germany. As we wanted to work with turtles, we were placed at the Conservation Centre at Banyan Tree resort. The staff here monitors the terrapin population in the wetlands around the resort, track turtles and takes care of six giant tortoises.

Right on our first day we fell in love with the gentle giants here at the conservation centre. Four of the tortoises were donated by their previous owners as they were not able to take good care of them while the other two had to be bought after some generous donations in the effort to rescue them. Daily duties are feeding them, cleaning the pond, and take away poo to the composter. We always imagined reptiles as independent animals, but these tortoises love to get a scratch. They are trying to get your attention so you pet them. But beware to never stand between a tortoise and her food- she can cause lovely bruises by “running” into you. Still we can’t stop gazing at these amazing animals.

The next day we went on terrapin tracking. We were lucky that there were two terrapins in our first trap. We have noticed it is not so common to find them in the traps.  What we usually do when finding a terrapin, is taking them to the centre to measure and weight them. We use the data to keep track on their health of the population, if they change ponds, and to understand terrapins behaviour better. Oh, and by the way, the nail polish is to mark them.

The first week went by, many things happened and we learned a lot. We did bird-surveys, beach-patrols to look for turtle tracks and nests, and we were cleaning coral tanks.

Then Friday came along (our favourite day so far). We were doing turtle-patrols on five different beaches. Quick summary of how we do that: Walk along the beach. Look for tracks. If we find one, we measure it to find out how big and what kind of sea turtle it was. Hawksbill and green turtles are nesting at the beaches here.
with their first turtle track
 Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered, and the green turtles are endangered. So, it is important that their nests are in good places, and that tourists and dogs for example don’t scare them away. When we got back to the office after the beach-patrols we got a call from someone that saw a turtle on the beach. In order to measure her and count the eggs, we hovered in the bushes behind her. That was one of our best nature experiences ever, as we never thought we would be so close to a turtle in such an intimate situation. When she was finished, we took ID-photos of her which we compare to previous taken pictures at the office. We think doing this is very exciting, in contrast to previous volunteers apparently.  (Vanessa knows how much we love it.) That’s how we keep track of the turtles.
I3S fanatics!

Now we are at the end of our second week. We are staying here one month. We already know that we’re going to miss the turtles, tortoises, terrapins and the lovely colleges. So, we are just trying to take in every moment and enjoy our stay here as much as possible. 
selfies while waiting on a nesting turtle

Astrid and Anna, volunteers November 2018. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Plastic Debris and 'Microplastics' Monitoring

While doing monitoring and assessment activities in the Grand Police area, we noticed something in the beach sand that we haven’t noticed at any of the other beaches around Mahé: many small pieces of broken up plastic. Though there is no as yet global standardised size, these plastic fragments are referred to based on their size, generally; macroplastics if they are larger than 25 mm, mesoplastics if they are between 5 mm and 25 mm, and microplastics if they are smaller than 5 mm. Plastic fragments such as these represent one of the lesser understood, yet seriously concerning, impacts that marine debris has on the health of our oceans and us.

While primary microplastics enter waterways and eventually the oceans in a micro size, secondary microplastics – such as the ones that are washed up on Grand Police beach – are the result of larger plastic debris in the ocean (eg. plastic bottles) breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces due to factors such as the movement of the waves and the sun’s rays. But it doesn’t end there. As they continue to fragment into ever smaller pieces, they absorb organic pollutants and toxins in the seawater like a sponge, and are then often mistaken for food and ingested by marine life. Accumulation of this kind of marine debris in the gut of various species can cause them to die of starvation. Little yet has been confirmed about the impacts that this may have on the health of humans, but it is possible that the chemical contaminants in the gut of fish species may be released from the gut wall into other tissues, which are then consumed by humans.  

It is undeniable that the ultimate measure to stop this problem from getting any worse is to stop plastic debris from entering our oceans altogether. However, until that can be achieved, we have to monitor and measure these plastic fragments washing up on the beach in order to try understand the scale of the problem and how best to manage it – “what gets measured, gets managed”. We do this by using sieves of two different mesh sizes to sift the sand along the strand line at a certain area on the beach. We then take the collected fragments back to our offices where we carefully measure and quantify them. Meticulous work it is!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Green turtle action day!

Following from the last blog update...we are still waiting for the first Hawksbill turtle encounter..... meanwhile, we have some Green turtle actions going on!
We recorded another green turtle track but it didn't appear that she laid. We moved on to another beach and I was alerted by Harm that he had found indeed it was a great find! There was a Green turtle nest hatching, so we got our gloves out and started helping the little hatchlings to go down the beach. We set them off in front of the vegetation to prevent them from getting caught up in the tall grass and beach morning glory plant and they could then make their way easily to sea.
Harm and Kitty observing the hatchlings
out they come!

We then collected the egg clutch survival data....and it was a stinky nest as there were a few rotten eggs and unfortunately some dead hatchlings in the nest.
Nonetheless, the patrol has been an interesting one and there were smiling faces all around!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Awaiting the first hawksbill turtle encounter!

As we patiently wait for our first turtle is a new blog from my main patrol partner for most of the 2018-2019 nesting season...…..

Hello as this is my first blog I thought it would be good to introduce myself first, Im Harm a 22 yr old student from The Netherlands. For my bachelors in environmental science I decided to do my Internship with MCSS for the Temporal Protected Areas project dealing mostly with sea turtle conservation, which is my main interest and thats where my stay and these blogs will focus on.
measuring a green turtle track (Harm(left) and Jorge)

I arrived a little over a month ago and am still waiting for my first, so elusive, turtle sighting. When I found my first tracks on the beach I was filled with satisfaction, the same happened with my first nest yet a turtle has not been within my grasps just yet.
recording data on the Trimble
Every other workday we scout the beaches in what we call Beach Monitoring, We monitor the following beaches extensively: Grand Police, Petite Police, Intendance, Bazarca, Corail and Chachee. Most of these are well known turtle hotspots and need regular monitoring to search for any possible new nest or tracks.
Anse Capucin beach

The Seychelles host the nesting of two different types of sea turtles; The Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, and the Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata. The Green turtle nests throughout the year but the Hawksbill only in nesting season, lucky for me my internship is right at the beginning of the season. Finding the first signs of Hawksbill turtles proved harder than expected, as it took almost two weeks longer than speculated. However, with the first sight of the tracks of the hawksbill followed the first nests. Some of these dating back already a 20 days ago and with the hatching starting approximately 65 days after nesting, its only a few more weeks away before I can hopefully
see the wonders of nature as the hatchlings find their way to the water.
the patrol team

Till then, have a nice day and keep saving the planet one step at a time,

Harm v.Z.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nesting turtles & enthusiastic volunteers!

It's been pretty quiet with the turtles in the south and patrols have mostly consisted of collection of rubbish on the main nesting beaches and a few Green turtle tracks here and there, but everyone is now patiently waiting for the appearance of the first Hawksbill turtle to officially announce the nesting season open... we look forward for the first tracks or even better...the first encounter! We have quite a few enthusiastic volunteers and interns around... Kitty shares her axperiences so far....

Kitty(left) & Jenny
My name is Kitty Daniels and I’m taking a year out between college and university to learn more about Marine Conservation. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre at the start of this week to join Vanessa’s turtle monitoring project. I started off with a ‘Turtle Season Briefing’ which outlined what to do when I find a turtle nest, and how to collect the relevant data for the project. As it is only the beginning of the nesting season, we have not spotted  many signs of turtle nesting, but today we found green sea turtle tracks on Anse Grand Police, which is exiting because Green Turtles are not common in this part of the Seychelles. I have also helped with Beach Profiling, which is a monthly survey to monitor the sand movement on the beach in relation to the nesting platform for the turtles. So far this has just involved desk-based data entry, but I’m looking forward to getting stuck in on the beach! I have also taken part in the Banyan Tree Hotel’s ‘Management Cocktails’, which didn’t involve any cocktails for me, but I was able to speak to the guests about the upcoming nesting season, and to promote the centre and offer tours of the facilities. I’m very much looking forward to the next three months  I will spend here and for turtle season to really get underway!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Alexandra shares her experiences with different MCSS projects

My name is Alexandra McCallum, I’m a 21 year old student from Canada and for the past four weeks I’ve been volunteering with MCSS to acquire a feel for the field of conservation biology. I spent my first two weeks in the North on the Coral Reef Restoration project at Fisherman’s Cove and then moved South to work on the Banyan Tree Terrapin project. Since having been at the Banyan Tree, I have been able to see many of the tasks at hand and got a feel for the work that is done here. I arrived in the South on a Monday afternoon, where I got to meet everyone working on the project and was shown around the facilities a bit. I then officially started on the Tuesday and already had a bunch to do on my first day, which I was very excited about! I went out with the team to check for terrapins in the traps located at different pond sites, as well as add bait to the traps. This is done in the morning and in the afternoon (at 9am and at 2:30pm). However, we did not find any terrapins that morning. Following the trapping, we joined Vanessa who was removing Water Hyacinths, an invasive plant species that take up vital living space for the terrapins.

pulling out the water hyacinths

This took us the rest of the morning as there were a lot to remove! After lunch, I went to go check out the Giant Tortoises, which are held in an enclosure behind the offices. They were extremely gentle and loved to be pet. One even tried to climb out of the water onto the rock I was sitting on just to get a bit of affection! At 2:30,we went out again to check the traps and found a terrapin!

cute baby terrapin!

 I was very excited to have gotten to see one on my first day as I did not expect this to be a common occurrence. Once back, I watched how Rebecca and Megan measured and tagged the terrapins and put them into the rehabilitation jacuzzis, where they stay until they are released back into their respective pond sites the next day. It was about 4pm by then so everyone started to gather their things and head home. 

turtle monitoring team

The following day, I came in expecting to do the exact same thing but in fact it was quite different. I went with Vanessa to do beach patrolling for turtle tracks and nests. 

beach patrol on Anse Grand Police
beach clean up!

We also brought garbage bags along to pick up trash along the beaches. We spotted green turtle tracks and a new nest that had been made the day before,it was really cool to see! One thing that really surprised me however was the amount of trash along the beach.We picked up 2 garbage bags full of flip flops, plastic bottles, glass and just waste left behind or brought in with the tide.We patrolled several beaches, including some surrounded by lush forests, and were all really beautiful. Once we got back, I shadowed Evita as she gave a tour to some of the hotel guests,so that I would also be able to give tours of the premises when needed. The next two weeks followed the same outline but remained really interesting. One day we even caught seven terrapins! Overall, this has been a great learning experience for me and I highly recommend taking part in these projects, as you are guaranteed to always find something to do!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fresh Tracks...New nest!

It has been very quiet for a long while and even when we were in the nesting season it wasn't that busy too sadly.
Nils doing the split!
Nonetheless, our last patrol brought some excitement around finally, where two sets of Green turtle tracks were spotted on one of the main nesting beaches. The tracks were so fresh and we were all wishing we could have encountered the turtles. However Green turtles usually nest in the early hours or at night when it's dark, so our chances of encountering them are low.
The Interns on patrol were so excited to see some tracks finally and as for me I was relieved more then excited, firstly to see that the turtles are still around and made it safely back to sea after their nesting activities and secondly I was relieved that the tracks could finally bring some proof to the interns that all my teachings and explanations about sea turtle monitoring could be put to be to the test. We had to identify the up and down tracks and detect if the turtle had successfully nested, but the big test was to be able to do a split while trying to measure the width of the track which were approximately 110cm!
Keeping the interns busy - measuring and recording!
The nesting beaches need constant monitoring even if we are not in the peak of the nesting season, lots of rubbish are being washed up onto the beach everyday and we aim to keep the beaches clean and clear, so rubbish collection is a task we undertake to reach our aim, but individuals are encouraged to help by collecting at least three pieces of rubbish when visiting the beaches and moreover never to leave any after visiting as well, especially people who like to have picnics.

Closer to the nesting season, we will carry out a more in depth cleaning and clearing of the nesting platform as well, where dry vegetation and non beneficial plants are removed. Other than that, we will be keeping a close eye on the new Green turtle nest and hope that the next couple of months treats the eggs well!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Nils' additional help with the turtle project

Nils started his internship with MCSS a few weeks ago.... Not the best period to be working on the Temporal Protected Areas Project for sea turtle conservation as there isn't any around at the moment since we are out of the nesting season for hawksbill turtle, nonetheless he has been involved on quite a few task, as he shares below........

Hello everyone! My name is Nils and currently I am involved with Vanessa’s TPA-Project in
the south of Mahé. As a part of my master’s programme I am volunteering with the MCSS.
Because the nesting season for Hawksbill turtles is already over for this time of the year I am
following different tasks than the daily monitoring of the beach. One of my main tasks for
the last two weeks was the maintenance of the Photo-ID-Database that the MCSS
established. I modified some features that makes the work easier to handle for the future
database modification for Turtle ID

Additionally, to the land-based computer work I got involved to create a whole new in-water
seafloor assessment. The goal is it to characterize the main nesting beaches by their depth
and substrate on the seabed. By doing line-transects along the beach at certain distance we
collect our data. So far, we only carried it out on Anse Intendance to get an idea whether it
works the way we planned it. For future times we would like to extend this survey to other
nesting beaches.
The main reason for doing this is to get an idea of how the seafloor character and the depth
might influence the turtles to get out of the water at a certain point. Several publications
suggest that Hawksbill turtles and Green Sea turtles prefer different habitat characteristics.
Hopefully the transects will be successful and the data add up to the understanding of the
nesting turtles.

first pilot survey of the Intendance seafloor

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Shanilla's first day on her work attachment with MCSS

Hello, my name is Shanilla Young-Kon
I’m 18 years old. I live at Anse Forbans. I’m a student at Seychelles Maritime Academy studying Fisheries Science. I have an infinite passion and love for the oceans. I was currently placed at the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles(MCSS)- Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre- Banyan tree for my work base experience for the next 3 months. 

Finding hatchlings on the first day!
Unfortunately on my first day the turtle nesting season was already over and I didn’t get to see any turtles but luckily while patrolling and monitoring some nests on the nesting beaches patrolled by MCSS, we manage to see some hatchlings One particular nest had over 200 of them crawling anxiously to the sea, we ensured they all made it safely into the sea, it was so amazing.
I can’t wait for the upcoming adventure ahead of me.

Hatchlings erupting!

the racers!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Emma's successful volunteering with the south projects!

Five and a half months in and finally I was lucky enough to see some hawksbill turtle hatchlings. I have spent most of my time with MCSS volunteering on the Fishermen’s Cove and Cerf island projects which are focused on corals, during which we frequently see turtles but was yet to see any hatchlings. And while many people think of 13 as an unlucky number March 13th was a great day for me, with 14 little hatchlings making an appearance.
Although most of the hatchlings from a 180+ egg clutch had already made their way out to the sea, possibly during the cooler temperature of the night, 14 hatchlings were still waiting to make their journey. We dug them out of the nest were they were waiting, weighed and measured 10 of them, and I attempted to keep the weighed and measured ones in a sand pen whilst we waited for the others, but they were extremely persistent to get to the sea. Keeping three or four in was fine but once it got to eight or nine they were definitely winning. I was really surprised at how strong they were and they can really wrap their fins around your hands and grip on.
Once the ten had been weighed and measured and a few guests from the hotel had arrived to watch the hatchlings, we let them make their own way down the beach and into the surf. Some of the hatchlings reached the sea shockingly quickly, whilst others seem to fall into every foot print possible. All 14 hatchlings made it to the sea without any help needed and swam off into the big ocean. Good luck little guys and I have my fingers crossed for more hatchlings this week.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Nathalie the new turtle volunteer

truly enjoying the experience
My name is Nathalie and I've come here for a voluntary mission of 1 month. I am really interested in conservation issues since I decided to make drastic changes in my life, quitting my work in finance to dedicate myself in marine environmental sciences. Coming here is providing me with a good insight of different activities and projects that can be done within a conservation center. I am mainly taking part in Vanessa's project with Nina, performing patrols and monitoring turtles (populating the database, using software faces recognition...). More than helping them directly on the field, the final aim is trying to get a better understanding of turtles' behavior, in order to create the best Temporal Protected Areas for a sustainable preservation. This relates with other current studies like beach profiling, mapping, fauna, flora and sand analysis.

turtle encounter on the nesting beach
Since being here, I had the luck to see 5 nesting Hawksbill turtles, including two which were laying and 2 hatchlings emerging from their nest. It's always emotional moments and I feel really privileged to be able to assist that, especially since the Hawksbill is a critically endangered species.

clearing the path for the little ones
I am also helping to educate classes from primary schools when they come to visit the centre. Raising children's awareness is very important as we can expect them to feel more involved in preserving the environment in the future, be it in Seychelles or anywhere else.

Another thing that is really enjoyable here is wildlife centre and the ability to welcome wild animals for rehabilitation. The care is not only provided to terrapins, sea and land turtles, but also to any animal that can be properly nursed, like baby birds. Pets are also welcome and an X rays is accessible to anybody who needs a diagnostic of their lovely animal.

checking out the terrapins
welcoming the land tortoises for rehabilitation
My wishes for MCSS and Seychelles is that legislation will support all the efforts made by NGOs and take appropriate measures to help to fight against poaching as much as possible.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nick's adventure with MCSS has come to an end

Only a few days left! After 20 weeks my adventure here is over, it has been amazing, with a lot of nice experiences and amazing people! 
Selfie with the drone!
Besides having a nice time some work had to be done as well of course, but this never felt like actual work because it is so relaxed and nice. Walking on the beaches looking for turtles, tracks and nests, terrapin trapping and building a terrapin and tortoise pen, these are the activities I have done the last 20 weeks which was lovely! I have seen a lot of turtles and fortunately even hatchlings.
Spotting the turtle with the drone
Spot the up and down track
 Flying the drone was also a lot of fun but not always as easy due to weather conditions. Unfortunately I have also encountered some poached turtles which was very sad, but it is almost inevitable when you work in conservation. But this made me more interested in the turtles and very excited whenever there was an up and down track instead of only up, at least we knew the turtle made it back into the sea safely.

In a few days I fly back to the cold and wet Netherlands and I know for sure that I will miss the nice relaxed lifestyle, the sun and all the people here! 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Introducing Nina - the newest member of the Ninja Turtles team!

Hey, I’m Nina  
I have recently finished my masters in Marine Environmental Protection and I am two weeks into an internship at MCSS. I am taking part in Vanessa’s project, where she focuses on creating temporal protected areas and legislation in relation to turtle distribution and their critical nesting beaches.
During my first day at the centre I was lucky enough to experience my first turtle encounter of 2018, which was also MCSS’s first turtle of the new year. 
digging the egg chamber
The following week, a turtle which was missing her hind right fin due to a shark attack attempted to nest on Anse Cachee. After making 4 body pits and failing to dig a nest due to too many roots, she finally found the right spot and nested. Her initial struggle paid off as she successfully laid 113 eggs (although they were much smaller than expected) and began to make her way back to the ocean. 
struggling to get over the rocks
With a little help to make it over the rocks she had finally completed her laying process. This took between 3-4 hours, which is a lot longer than the usual turtle nesting behaviour. The appropriate data was collected during this encounter including GPS location of the nest, photos of her face for use in the photo identification software (I3S) and carapace measurements. 
The monitoring and the data collected will contribute towards the development of management plans for nesting turtles.
So far this was most beautiful Hawksbill turtle and the most eventful encounter I have experienced. I hope my time at MCSS will continue to be as interesting and full of turtle encounters.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

All about learning and making the most of the school holidays

Hi all .... My name is Shea and I’ve been volunteering at MCSS for about one week so far during my school holidays.  In the mornings I help with the turtle patrols along 5 of the main nesting beaches down at Takamaka which we are currently doing 3 times a week. We have not been as lucky as to see a nesting turtle yet although we’ve spotted a few turtle tracks, where some had managed to actually lay. Hopefully my luck changes before my time here at MCSS comes to an end and I get to see a nesting turtle. 

learning to use the Trimble

digging up a hatched nest for data collection
In my short time here, I’ve got to learn and done things I haven’t done before which to me is a great experience. This morning we dug up a turtle nest from which had already hatched to record the egg clutch survival data.
 It was quite a successful nest where we found 161 hatched eggshells and only 5 rotten ones which is pretty good news. Now that it is nesting season hopefully we’ll start to see more and more turtles coming up the beach to lay or at least get to witness some hatchlings as they emerge from the nest and start their life journey.