For a week in March this year, I was fortunate to attend the International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS) in Peru, representing Nature Seychelles work in marine conservation on Cousin Island Special Reserve.
Cousin is an incredible island, and it does not take a biologist to realise this. During peak sea turtle nesting season, you can come across fifteen nesting hawksbill sea turtles a day. To put things into perspective, hawksbills are Critically Endangered (as listed on the IUCN Red List) and very few large nesting rookeries remain due to overexploitation by humans. Seychelles has been known for its large hawksbill nesting numbers, and Cousin is a main contributor.
Cousin is only 27 hectares, but the management style since the mid-1900s has allowed hawksbill nesting to recover at an astounding rate. This ecosystem based management that was originally instilled, and continues up to today, allowed not only the endemic Seychelles warbler (the reason for the original protection) to recover, but it also protected the nesting beaches and surrounding waters used by hawksbill sea turtles.
Poster presentation of Cousin Island as a key nesting area for Hawksbill turtles
I was very fortunate to attend the ISTS and present the conservation success story of Cousin. There was a lot of interest from people involved in areas that have had successes of their own. There was also a lot of interest from people who are in the process of developing conservation/management programs and who are using success stories as guides towards what could lead their areas to success.
The conference was composed of all-day workshops and regional meetings the first two days and of talks the following three days. The conference was opened with keynote speeches by renowned sea turtle researchers Dr. Colin Limpus on actions needed for conservation and by Dr. Brendan Godley on lessons learned in marine turtle conservation. The rest of the talks delved into current research on in-water biology, population biology and monitoring, fisheries and threats, nesting biology, anatomy and physiology, and emerging threats (climate change, oil spill, plastic pollution). These included talks on the seven different sea turtle species in areas all around the world.
Souvenir photo with other psrticipants
There were impressive talks on new and innovative ways to address data gaps and threats. For example, one talk showed that by simply putting green lights on fishing nets, there is significantly less sea turtle bycatch when fishing at night. There were also talks on the importance of long term monitoring and data collection. It was exciting to be networking with people who run long term monitoring programs with hawksbills in Brazil and with neighboring countries from East Africa, such as from Mozambique.
I am sincerely grateful to the International Sea Turtle Symposium and to the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA, under the MARG III Grant) and Nature Seychelles for their support in order for me to attend the. It was extremely motivating, informative, and inspirational to attend the conference, and what a privilege to represent Cousin Island.
By Cheryl Sanchez
Cousin Island Special Reserve