During the 2012-13season, Cousin Island experienced the highest number of nesting female hawksbill turtles in recent years despite a late start to the nesting season. Although the season was seven months long, approximately half of nests were laid during November and December when up to 30 turtles were encountered on a single day. Such high numbers are obviously brilliant news for the turtle population nesting on Cousin Island, which is one of the world’s longest running hawksbill monitoring programmes- but meant a very exhausting few months for the volunteers and wardens of Cousin Island.
Turtle monitoring on Cousin is hard work but very worth it. It is incredible watching the entire nesting process and the amount of hard work that each individual puts into making sure her eggs are safe. From emerging out of the water and traversing often almost vertical sand during the hottest part of the day to digging often more than one hole, calmly laying her eggs and finally making sure they are covered before returning to the ocean. at all.
Turtles are a relic from the age of the dinosaurs, despite the nesting process being incredibly long (sometimes up to 3 hours) and life in the sea being risky. The resilience of the species cannot be disputed. This year we had a visit from an extraordinary turtle, affectionately known on the island as “Stumpy”. Her back right flipper was missing and a huge chunk was taken out of her carapace. This damage is thought to have been done by a shark; however this did not stop her natural instinct to lay. A tagged turtle throughout the season was encountered on average 3 times, however Stumpy attempted to lay 10 times. At first we thought she would never be able to complete the laying process, although her right flipper still did the perfect motion for digging an egg chamber – no sand was shifted. With a lot of help from volunteers scooping out sand she managed to dig an egg chamber and laid two nests.
It is incredibly interesting seeing the whole life cycle happen on Cousin Island. Sighting turtles mating in the waters around Cousin and watching females emerge to lay eggs on the island to hatchlings pouring out of their nest in their hundreds and then snorkelling and seeing juvenile turtles feeding around the island. It really brings home how important this small island in the Seychelles is for ensuring the continuation of this ancient species which has severely suffered at the hands of humans collecting individuals for their beautiful shells. We can only hope in the future there are more and more bumper years like this and the same turtles and their offspring keep returning.