14
January
2016

Wildlife don’t take Christmas breaks

A report from Nature Seychelles International Volunteer program

 Life's a beach

Cousin Island Special Reserve is a hub of year round activity for a variety of wildlife. In a single day you are guaranteed to spot the several seabird species that nest here, as well as other wildlife species such as the charming Seychelles Magpie Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) the charismatic Seychelles skink (Mabuya seychellensis) and it’s more intimidating cousin, the Wright’s skink (Mabuya wrightii).

You cannot miss the famous Aldabra Giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantean) that amble around the island. From September to March every year the more elusive visitor to Cousin, the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) is a regular visitor to the beaches of this marine protected island. That’s right, it’s turtle season!

 Telltale signs of a turtle on the island

This year, the sea turtle nesting season kicked off fashionably late with the first females not arriving until several weeks later than they have done in previous years. It was a slow start to the first month of nesting, but surely enough, the females eventually arrived and numbers began to increase. Despite having a slow start, the number of encounters and nests has now increased to a similar level as seen in previous years. 

Throughout the turtle nesting season, Nature Seychelles staff and volunteers perform beach patrols every hour on a daily basis. This way we ensure that as many turtles as possible are encountered on their way to build nests and lay their eggs. We can therefore collect detailed data on the nesting success and breeding behaviour of the Hawksbill turtle. 

 Spotting turtles on time ensures all the data, including number of eggs laid, is recorded

Due to the timing of the season, Christmas Day was a day full of activity for the Cousin team. This was a very busy time for turtle nesting and this year showed no signs of slowing down,. However, come nightfall, we all came together for a big celebration and everyone just about managed to forget how tired we all were from patrolling the beaches all day.

As the New Year approached, so did the eagerly anticipated arrival of the hatchlings. So far this season, several nests have already hatched and we, conservation volunteers, have had the unique opportunity to see these tiny little reptiles make a break for the open ocean across what must seem to them like miles of sand. 

Time to find my way to the big blue world

Anyone who has seen hatchlings heading for the ocean will agree that it is a fascinating and inspiring thing to witness. We now have many nests that could hatch at any moment and everyone is on standby hoping to watch the spectacular sight of these wonderful little creatures heading out to sea.

In a few weeks the females will no longer arrive to nest on the beaches of Cousin and the last few hatchlings will struggle down the beach to the ocean and turtle season 2015/16 will officially draw to a close. The staff and volunteers will then turn their attention to other conservation work on the island and before you know it, September will arrive again and turtle season 2016/17 will kick off again, hawksbill will emerge from the water and onto Cousin Island beaches oblivious to the festive season ahead.
By Emma Jones

Categories: Living on a nature reserve, Turtles, Volunteering, Seabirds, Wildlife