The turtle nesting season has begun earlier than expected! A Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) came on shore to nest on Cousin Island Special Reserve on August 22, staff report.
The turtle nesting season has begun earlier than expected
“One of our wardens, Joel, spotted the turtle,” says Chris Tagg, the island's conservation manager. She was an untagged female probably on a maiden voyage to Cousin's beaches. She prepared two body pits and one chamber but did not lay eggs. But we know she'll be back!”
Female turtles return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs, a phenomenon called natal homing, and come to shore to nest between one and six times per season.
Nesting season typically begins in September and lasts until March of the following year. However, early beginnings such as this have been recorded in previous years.
Peak nesting season is usually November to December. Nests incubate for about 60 days and hatchlings emerge after two months of nesting activity.
In anticipation of the nesting season, staff are on high alert for incoming female turtles. The team is preparing to conduct foot patrols around the beaches to collect data for the Hawksbill turtle conservation program that has been ongoing since the 1970s, one of the world's longest ones.
"On Cousin Island, turtles use five main beaches," says Tagg. "Staff and volunteers will walk these beaches from 6.30 am until 7.30 pm, recording any turtles, tracks, or nests they encounter, including the outcome. This includes nesting activity type, shell and track measurements, and tag numbers.”
Hawksbill turtles are one of the two sea turtle species that nest in Seychelles
In addition to this Hawkbill turtle, the island also had a Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting the following week. “We have seen an increased number of “greens” on the island in the past seasons, which is great!” Tagg adds.
Seychelles has five of the seven turtle species present, with Hawksbill and Green turtles nesting here. It hosts one of the world’s five largest nesting populations of Hawksbill turtles. Cousin Island is one of the most important nesting sites in the western Indian Ocean.
The nesting process is physically demanding for the female turtle, as she crawls up the beach, digs, lays eggs, and covers them before returning to the ocean. It is a testament to their resilience in the face of numerous challenges including habitat loss and pollution, climate change impacts, and poaching threats.
All seven species of turtles are currently listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Understanding and protecting their lifecycles is crucial to their survival.
Our understanding and protection crucial to their survival
The experience on Cousin shows that protection of nesting beaches and female turtles coming in to nest is an effective way of conserving turtle populations.
With nesting season starting, it is our responsibility to support sea turtle conservation efforts. To do this you can educate yourself and raise awareness on sea turtles. Keep beaches and nesting sites clean of litter and pollution.
Report illegal activities such as poaching to authorities
Report turtle sightings, tracks, nests, hatchlings, or illegal activities such as poaching should to the appropriate authorities and conservation organizations. Respect nesting areas, keep a safe distance, avoid flash photography, and do not disturb turtles, their nests, or hatchlings. Contribute to beach conservation and habitat restoration.