North Island Environmental Team Report - Hawksbill Turtles

Apr 17, 2012 North Island
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Despite hawksbill turtle mothers being rather fussy when choosing a suitable nest site for their eggs, after the laying, progressing beach erosion can be a real danger to nests laid too low on the beach. You can hardly blame the mother for not being so far-sighted!

North Island's interest in turtles started as far back as 1998, four years before the lodge construction and just after the island purchase in 1997. Some Wilderness Safaris guides, working in southern Africa, came on holidays to North Island, and their early notebooks form an interesting log on how different things were before we started our large-scale rehabilitation. They also made notes on turtles and turtle tracks seen, even reported wandering farm cows having trampled on turtle nests, and started with marking off a few nests.

After the successful rat eradication in September 2005, the resident environment team still had to spend a lot of time on checking whether all rodents were indeed eradicated. Hence the beaches did not benefit from daily patrols at the time, and reports of eggs washing away were not uncommon.

Over the last four years, however, patrolling frequencies have been stepped up thanks to an increase in environmental staff, with monitors having received good training and acquired increasing experience over the years. All this has paid off with a substantial increase in information on numbers of females emerging, seasonality, movements confirmed through tagging, and information on nest survival, thus contributing to the national knowledge of the populations in the Seychelles.

But perhaps even more directly benefiting the species' survival is the fact that daily patrols can make sure that our guests can have the opportunity of seeing such an incredible occurrence, yet without disturbing the animals' reproduction - an excellent combination that is the hallmark of good ecotourism!

These patrols also ensure the proper marking of all nests. Such marked nests, logged also on maps, allow for daily monitoring and timely translocations of those threatened with being washed away.

We previously spoke about our general "watch-but-do-not-touch" approach, with nests being dug up strictly only when threatened by progressing beach erosion, or standing water accumulating on top (sea water spilled over after spring tide, or rainwater washing onto the beach). This year has been no exception, and together with the previous hawksbill turtle season, a substantial increase in emerging females (also recorded on other islands in the Seychelles) has resulted in a lot more nests having to be saved. Depending on the situation, some were re-buried higher up on the berm, whilst others were taken to the office in foam boxes filled with sand. Both techniques have been and continue to be very successful, and guests and staff have been made part of this exciting work.

The nests in the office particularly have given a wealth of information on what turtle eggs and hatchlings are all about. The normal hatching time is two months after laying, and all nests are carefully monitored. After release of all successfully hatched babies, and as per specialist advice, we give the remaining unhatched eggs an additional 10 days, before they are opened for research purposes. Their contents are carefully recorded and DNA material taken and sent to the chelonian experts we closely work with.

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