A Report from Nature Seychelles’ International Volunteer Program
Having never seen a turtle on land before, I have found it breathtaking to see the movement and behavior of beautiful sea turtles on the beaches of Cousin Island Special Reserve. Volunteering on Cousin during the final months of the year means I get to be part of the madness of turtle nesting season. Critically Endangered Hawksbill turtles surface from the sea between September and March to lay their eggs on one of their most important nesting sites in the region.
All turtle activity on the island needs to be recorded, either from counting tracks or encountering the turtle herself, and is then added to the island’s extensive data set. In order to collect this data we patrol the beaches from 6.30am to 6.30pm in search of the daytime nesters.
The beach patrols consist of walking along half the island’s beaches with a turtle bag in tow, named so, as it has all the useful turtle equipment required inside. Sadly, it’s not in the shape of a turtle. We note down all activity we can see has occurred since the last person patrolled the beach.
Once she's done laying, she will cover up the nest chamber with her back flippers and camouflage the area
On many of our patrols we are lucky enough to find a hawksbill on the beach or on the edge of some vegetation. As we approach a turtle, the first thing to do is to identify what stage of nesting she is, from a safe distance so as not to scare her. If we encounter her early enough, we are then able to sneak up behind her ready to count her eggs as soon as she begins to lay, when she is in a trance-like state.
Another aspect involved in the Hawksbill monitoring is nest excavations. Seventy days after they are laid, we locate the nest and dig up the sand where our markers indicate the egg chamber is. Excavations are especially interesting because we can discover how many of the eggs hatched, how many were predated on by crabs, how many infected and how many did not fully develop.
Beautiful sunset treat on one of our beach patrols
Seeing the partially developed turtles, from an embryo to an almost fully developed hatchling is fascinating. The excavation process is also really important in terms of our conservation work as it gives us an indication of how many hatchlings are successful per clutch laid and of those eggs that are unsuccessful it is useful to have data on reasons why as far as we can work out.
Sometimes during excavations live hatchlings can be found still down in the nest, strugglers. It is amazing to see them as they finally emerge and head out down the beach and seemingly disappear into the sea.
Volunteering with Nature Seychelles on Cousin has given me an incredible opportunity to learn and gain experience in turtle conservation work. The longer I’m here, the more turtle obsessed I’m getting!
Spending quality time with George with George, the oldest tortoise on Cousin Island
The turtle work is definitely a highlight of my time here but I am also enjoying the overall life on the island. Being surrounded by incredible wildlife and the scenery every day is surreal. Chilling out and chatting to George, the oldest tortoise on the island is always a great part of my day.