A lucky group of tourists witnessed as a turtle was laying her eggs - taking photos from a safe distance by Emma Jones
Every year on Cousin Island we roll into another turtle season in August and we quickly find ourselves deeper and deeper in the sand as the days turn the corner to November – the height of the Hawksbill turtle season. From dawn till dusk starting in October, we keep our eyes peeled for turtle tracks to or from the beach and turtles approaching the beach or heading back to sea.
Cousin Island is a Special Reserve under Seychelles law which states that all activities are to be subsumed to biodiversity conservation. In effect, human activities are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values of this amazing place.
Choosing the right spot to lay her eggs by Kara Beggs
So yes, tourists are welcome, but under strict rules. All visitors are picked up from their visiting boats, and only let onto the island by one of our reserve boats. The tourists are split into organized guided tours where they will receive information about the island and the many wildlife that live here.
The do’s and don’ts can be pretty straight forward from no feeding, touching, teasing or wandering, but still humans can be just as wild, if not more than our bio-diverse neighbors.
There’s a new energy that comes to the island as each season presents its’ own particular version of a species phenomenon. One very important season, is turtle season when nesting female Hawksbill turtles come to lay their eggs, every day for up to 7 months.
When the turtle has started laying her eggs, apart from counting these, its also the perfect time to take measurements as she's in a trance-like state. by Kara Beggs
It’s a rare, spectacular thing to witness, and on Cousin Island it is a regular occurrence over this time of the year. As the wardens of Cousin Island present these nesting animals through tours, there’s always a huge challenge of managing people as the tourists are guided alongside these beaches active with turtles.
Many tourists will have expectations, for photos and how close they can get to these animals - our team of dedicated island staff have learnt to deftly handle such situations so that the turtle is not disturbed if encountered by a group of tourists.
These animals are critically endangered, because of human presence and poaching elsewhere. We are here for their protection, to follow through with close monitoring and data collection on the growth and sustainability of the population. Humans are their greatest threat so we need to assure every precaution is taken to not disturb the natural behavior of these wild animals.
Heading back out to sea after hours of nest digging, laying eggs then finally covering and camouflaging the nest by Kara Beggs
In doing so, we end up with local heroes here on the island - the wardens working on Cousin introduce our wildlife to the outside world and the beauty this island has to offer. The meaning of conservation is encapsulated in simple yet powerful moments when a warden stops with a group to watch a Critically Endangered nesting turtle.
What a great reminder that we are here for the protection of wildlife which needs this kind of dedication to succeed. And on Cousin, a Nature Reserve for almost 50 years the results of conservation dedication are clear – it is the most important nesting site for Hawksbill turtles in the Western Indian Ocean region!
by Kara Beggs, Science Coordinator, Cousin Island Special Reserve.