New "NEST" turtle technology tested successfully on Cousin Island

Nature Seychelles has successfully field-tested a turtle nest monitoring prototype co-designed with a Seychellois technology company, OceanLabs Seychelles, during this turtle season. OceanLabs developed and assembled the prototype in Seychelles.

The prototype was co designed with a Seychellois technology company OceanLabs Seychelles

The prototype was co-designed with Seychellois technology company OceanLabs Seychelles

NEST (Nest Electronic Surveillance of Turtles) automatically monitors and transmits turtle nest environmental data, including temperature, humidity, and oxygen. Research suggests that all three factors have an impact on incubation length, hatchling sex, embryo survival, and other physical characteristics of sea turtles. There is, however, not much research on these conditions within natural turtle nests, such as those on Cousin, one of the most important rookeries for Hawksbill turtle nesting in the western Indian Ocean.

The device is also meant to help detect movement inside the nest, which could indicate a disturbance or a hatching event. Scientists can predict when eggs will hatch. But this can vary throughout the nesting season and is labour-intensive.

According to Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles' Chief Executive Officer, the purpose of the development and deployment of this prototype was twofold.

The device was deployed on nesting sites on Cousin Island Special Reserve Photo Kamil Korneluk

The device was deployed on nesting sites on Cousin Island Special Reserve (Photo: Kamil Korneluk)

"First, we wanted to see if we could co-design and co-develop new conservation technology with a home-grown Seychellois company using off-the-shelf parts. Secondly, if the prototype thus developed could collect data on the parameters needed. This interesting new process between OceanLabs and Nature Seychelles succeeded in doing both albeit with a number of challenges," he says.

Daniel Hugelmann of OceanLabs Seychelles described NEST as a system consisting of the device itself with three sensor probes to measure the above parameters, a Low Radio (LoRa) gateway, which transmits data, and a web application, through which conservation scientists can access data on their computer or mobile phone in real-time.

OceanLabs site visit to Cousin Island prior to the prototypes development

OceanLabs site visit to Cousin Island prior to the prototype's development

The device underwent several iterations prior to field testing. A significant amount of time was also spent on software development.
The device was deployed twice in November and December in two different nests. A great deal of care was taken to minimize disturbance to the nests, and it was located in such a way that it didn't obstruct the hatchlings' path.

In early February, the second nest where the device was deployed hatched successfully. While the device collected data intermittently throughout the deployment, it did help answer a number of questions related to its design as well as environmental considerations for Cousin.

Overall, a lot of the time was spent troubleshooting technical issues. "This is a normal process; trial and error are common with prototypes, especially in a challenging natural environment," Daniel says.

The second nest where the device was deployed hatched successfully

The second nest where the device was deployed hatched successfully (Photo - OceanLabs Seychelles)

Daniel was lucky enough to be on Cousin for the nest hatching. "It was so exciting to witness the hatching first-hand. This is why we do science!" he states.

NEST's development and deployment are supported by Huawei and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Tech4Nature program.

"We are fortunate to have found a donor who appreciates the necessity to develop conservation technology that is suited to our needs. It's an exciting time for us as this has the potential to reduce the cost and labour required to monitor endangered turtle nests and to help us make better decisions about nest management," Shah concludes.

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