March 2016 – North Island, Seychelles is proud to report that its environmental team has tagged 144 Endangered turtles – 21 Endangered green turtles and 123 Critically Endangered Hawksbill turtles – to date as part of its ongoing turtle conservation programme.
The number of nesting sea turtles on North Island’s beaches is remarkable due to the small size of the Island, making it a significant nesting site for both species of the Critically Endangered hawksbill and the Endangered green turtle. The Island is therefore committed to a proactive approach to turtle conservation and is an important host site of these iconic marine species.
“The purposes of turtle monitoring on North Island are twofold”, explains Conservation Coordinator Tarryn Retief, “firstly, to gather the knowledge needed to ensure that all Island operations are conducted without prejudice to the turtle’s habitat and behavioural requirements; and secondly, to allow North Island to play its part in global efforts to save these species, which have rightly become symbols for marine conservation”.
Tagging turtles allows them to be subsequently identified if they nest on other islands, or are inadvertently taken as bycatch by fishermen. In this way, North Island has been able to make a meaningful contribution to Seychelles’ national turtle monitoring programme. Knowledge gained in this way feeds directly into efforts to have key nesting sites (such as North Island) declared Marine Protected Areas, to the benefit of all marine wildlife.
The 144 turtles have been tagged with uniquely-numbered titanium turtle tags. As green turtles nest at night, fewer of these have been tagged, but North’s environmental team has had more success with the day-nesting hawksbill turtles. Just over 123 hawksbill turtles have been tagged, of which some 55 have been re-sighted – 42 of which were seen in subsequent nesting seasons and 13 re-sighted during the same season, but not the next. Such re-sightings underline both the importance of North Island to nesting turtles in Seychelles, and the fact that female turtles tend to be creatures of habit (research suggests that they return to nest on their own natal beaches).
In other words, it is not a case of “any beach will do”. North Island’s aptly-named Noah’s Ark rehabilitation programme has seen the removal of alien predators such as rats from the Island, increasing the survival rate of turtle eggs and hatchlings. These efforts have also been rewarded by gradual upward trends in both the number of nesting events and hatchling success rates.
“The length of our turtle monitoring programme, which began as early as 1998 and was officially formulated in 2004, means that as well as the emergence of patterns, we are starting to ‘get to know’ individual turtles. One very large hawksbill turtle in particular has proven to be something of a North Island regular”, Retief added. “First tagged in 2004, she has returned to nest eight times in the following years and in the process has become very relaxed around people. She has been known to lay her eggs on East Beach just metres from the Island Piazza as guests enjoy their lunch, thus unwittingly making her own contribution to the bigger picture of turtle conservation through ecotourism”.
Turtle tagging on North Island helps researchers monitor these Endangered species