Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hello from the new intern - Elena Wonneberger 

Time flies by so fast, almost a week passed since I arrived to beautiful Anse Intendance and the Wildlife Conservation & Rehabilitation Centre at the Banyan Tree Resort! 

After a first shock, coming from the cold and rainy Belgium where I currently do my master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, to the hot and humid Seychelles, I quickly adapted to the new climate. Also the adaptation to this, for me, new country went quite quick as I was warmly welcomed by an amazing team and the two terrapins, Chichi and Ganji, that currently stay in the centre for their rehabilitation.

Elena trapping terrapins
On the first day of my two months internship I already caught two terrapins in the traps that are set out in the surrounding wetlands to monitor the populations. After measuring, weighting and releasing them back in their natural habitat the traps are set out again.

Unfortunately I’m late for the sea turtles, their nesting season is just over. But luckily I can nevertheless do something for them! I am going to map their preferred nesting sites and relate this to environmental parameters, like vegetation, and I will also look how the lights can impact nesting sea turtles and hatchlings.

I’m excited for what the next two months will bring and looking forward to all the new experiences!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Attack On Invasives!

The conservation team at Banyan Tree has been going mercilessly at the terribly invasive water hyacinths which are sometimes even known as the World’s Worst Water Weed. From morning till afternoon the team undergoes endless grappling, tugging and shoving at these invasive plants into large bin bags. Despite the large beads of sweat on our foreheads and the mud and dirt staining our shirts, we are proud to boast our efforts in tackling and conquering a record of 80 bags of water hyacinths out of the pond. Certainly, the journey of eradicating these water hyacinths has only just begun. With a group of simply three of our staff and one honored volunteer; Paul Starkey, we take on this challenge once every week (Usually on Thursdays).
Water hyacinth mats are capable of attaining incredibly high plant density and biomass. A single hectare (10000 meter square) can contain more than 360 metric tons (360000Kg) of plant biomass! Water hyacinths are considered an exasperating weed in over 50 countries. They cause several problems including;
- The increase of evapotranspiration well above that of open water (often over 3 times “open pan” evaporation) thus causing significant water loss in the pond/ wetland.
-The formation of dense floating mats that cover large areas of water surface - thus excluding light, and air. This then affects animals (including fish) and plants that live and grow below the water surface; the area of a water hyacinth mat can double over several days when conditions of water and temperature are optimal.

-The serious mechanical impacts on river flows caused by the dense mats of biomass; thus in turn affecting the circulation of water, nutrients and gases such as oxygen.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

An amazing encounter...


On their way back from lunch Alessia and Rebecca bumped into a beautiful creature the Seychelles Wolf snake (Lycognathophis seychellensis) in the middle of the road and saved it from getting crush by cars passing. This beautiful creature is on our list of animals we can see around the wetland at Anse Intendance (Banyan Tree Resort) but we rarely see it. 

They are also endemic in the Seychelles and are listed as endangered in the IUCN red list, so please refrain from killing them to extinction. Adults may attain 1 m in total length, with a tail 31 cm long!

The main threats they face is habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, there have been cases of people often killing this snake without realizing that they are completely harmless, in fact they actually move away rapidly when disturbed! 

Most people confuses the wolf snake with the House snake as a result of both snakes sharing the same creole name "Koulev". 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Luzia's adventure ends!

A bit of a late upload due to some internet problems....but better late than never.
Some last few words from Luzia as her adventure with MCSS ends......

Anse Intendance
Bye Bye Seychelles!

My five weeks with MCSS in Banyan Tree are almost over. I learnt so much about turtles and terrapins, how the field work is done, data is collected and how to raise awareness through educational work. I met an amazing team of co-workers and enjoyed every minute with them at work and after work by some cocktails.
I’ve experienced so many things here I will never forget, like the tiny little black mud terrapin babies, the first time monitoring birds, the bioluminescent plankton at Anse Intendance, my first bread fruit meal, my first hawksbill turtle and green turtle encounter, and of course my first time seeing the sea turtles babies hatching, running over the beach, and swimming into the big blue ocean.

I’m happy I got a chance to be a part of this amazing team and hope to see them again when I’m a grown-up marine biologist.









Tuesday, February 21, 2017

From MCS UK to MCS Seychelles......

Where do turtles have star-bellies and nest in the day? The Seychelles!

Having spent the last seven years working for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) in the UK, I couldn't pass up the chance to meet up with MCS Seychelles (MCSS) while visiting these beautiful islands. With a team of only 7 staff members, it's not surprising that like us they welcome volunteers and I'm honoured to be one of them for my time here.



It didn't take long to meet the locals! At the Banyan Tree Rehabilitation Centre I was introduced to their resident Yellow-bellied Mud and Black Mud (or sometimes known as Star-bellied) turtles. They are the two species of terrapins found on the Seychelles, and while they may not be marine turtles, they can be found just behind the beaches here in freshwater wetlands and are both critically endangered. With their natural habitat being threatened by developments, pollution and invasive species it's no surprise that their numbers have declined. Luckily for them, MCSS have set up a programme to monitor their numbers and protect them. 

First day on the job we headed out to the remote beaches of South Mahe to check some traps that the team had already put out in the wetlands in an area earmarked for a new tourist resort - and as if to prove that they really are rare, after checking around a dozen traps, we unfortunately hadn't caught any!

The next day we had more luck with the traps in the wetlands surrounding the rehabilitation centre. The first turtle we caught was a regular visitor and had been caught just a few days before - the staff recognised her instantly due to the unique pattern on her belly (plus the nail varnished scales used as an ID tag!) so we recorded her presence and popped her straight back. After a few more no shows we were lucky enough to capture a new individual that the team hadn't met before so she was measured, marked and recorded - I was asked to name her and since she had a unique purple colouration on her shell (only seen once before on a turtle known as Violet) I called her Viola, after my four year old niece. 

But it's not just the freshwater turtles that need protecting here. The white sand beaches are a popular nesting ground for Hawksbill turtles, also critically endangered. I was pleased to find out that, unlike most other turtles, the Hawksbill turtles in the Seychelles nest during the day - no all night turtle patrols for me! So off we went to look for signs of new turtle nests and recently hatched ones. After walking along the shores of nine beautiful beaches we had recorded a new Hawksbill nest, which we found by the tracks left in the sand, and had dug up three recently hatched nests to see how many eggs had successfully hatched - thankfully all of the the eggs we found had.




The following day and back on the terrapin project, I saw first hand how the latest technology was being put into use by using drones to photograph wetlands to create habitat maps. Again the wetlands are potential sites for developments and the team are hoping to find the areas which are important for the terrapins so that they can hopefully be retained and disturbance minimized. We also caught a very cute juvenile terrapin back at the centre - smaller than the palm of my hand!

Another day and more beaches that need to be checked for signs of new turtle activity. We found some more new tracks on the beach but this time we couldn't find any evidence that she had made a nest - maybe put off by the dry sand or natural debris on the part of the beach she had chosen. We dug several nests which had recently hatched, two were very successful and we only found empty shells but the last was a bit of a mixed bag, over 90 eggs had hatched but a further 50 hadn't developed properly. Seven hatchlings hadn't made it out of the nest, stuck under roots blocking their exit - luckily for them we dug the nest soon after the main hatch and we were able to help them out. It was great to watch them make their way happily over the stretch of sand to the sea and take their first strokes into the torquoise blue water. Hopefully some of them will return to nest one day and will find the beach as welcoming a nesting site as their mother did. 

It's not all about playing with turtles though - today we spent the morning removing water hyacinths from the wetland. This invasive aquatic plant species spreads at an alarming rate. It's hot work, but it feels good to do something practical to help improve the terrapins habitat.


Even though I have been here a very short time, and have come at the end of nesting season, I have seen lots of evidence of breeding Hawksbill's here and areas where terrapins have found a refuge. But like most places they are under constant pressure, whether it's from habitat loss, invasive species or sometimes poaching. But I have seen a strong desire to conserve the turtles on Mahe. Most beaches are patrolled and monitored for turtle activity, whether by MCSS or one of the other organisations on the island. Even though I am told that the beaches have begun to be more heavily developed over the last few years I can see that when they are developed there are rules which help to limit the impact on the beach - the wetlands unfortunately seem to be more heavily impacted. But hopefully with information gathered by organisations like MCSS their impact in the future can be reduced. 












Sunday, February 19, 2017

Baby Yellow Bellies

Last week has been baby-yellow-belly-week!

Despite being so small, the 3 baby terrapins are making our database larger and diverse. They were all found in the same pond a few days apart,during our usual terrapin trapping sessions and are approximately the same age of about 3-4 months. 



This species is critically endangered and are on the brink of extinction. To boost our conservation efforts in saving terrapins, we are also introducing the 'Adopt-A-Terrapin' scheme and the three new babies mentioned; Snookie, Piccola, and Sushi will also be one of the terrapins available for adoption as well as many many others.




Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rescued and set free hatchlings, and a nesting hawksbill turtle: an amazing second day




Luzia!

 
Hi, I’m Luzia the new volunteer at MCSS. I’m 26 years old and from Switzerland. So far, I have rescued hawksbill hatchlings from the basement of a villa and set them free on the beach towards the ocean, and monitored a hawksbill turtle nesting. The nest was too close to the high water line, so we had to relocate the nest further up the beach.  As for the near future...we expect some baby sea turtles to hatch again next weekend.  Hopefully they will not get disturbed by lights and will walk straight to the sea.
Rescued Hatchlings


Help is on the way!

I also saw a lot of black mud and yellow bellied mud terrapins. We captured, marked, released... trying to estimate the population size. The knowledge about terrapins is extremely limited because there are almost no studies done about them.
But both species of terrapins on the Seychelles are classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. We captured a large female yellow bellied terrapin. Because she was so large, we did an x-ray of her. On the picture, we could see 18 eggs in her belly. 
Pregnant Terrapin X-ray

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inka the new Volunteer!

My name is Inka and I just started my volunteering adventure around Africa. The plan is to spend the next four months volunteering in wildlife conservation in the Seychelles, Uganda and Namibia to gain valuable work experience and discover these amazing countries. First stop is with MCSS where I will be staying for one month.

Me (Inka) with Salome

On my first day we went out patrolling the southern beaches in search of turtles, tracks and nests. Unfortunately we didn’t encounter any turtles this time, they must have been chilling in the ocean, but it was great to drive around and explore the beautiful beaches and tropical vegetation. On one of the beaches, we discovered one of the existing nests had been dug up by dogs. Fourteen eggs were lost but fingers crossed the others are okay! In the afternoon we drove west to check on a few more beaches and stopped along the way to taste some local fruits. As we were looking up in search of ripe fruit, we didn’t notice the big hole on the side of the road. Turns out it was just the right size for the jeep’s front wheel.  But before we had time to panic, people were stopping by to give us a helping hand and it only took a couple of minutes before we were on the road again. A nice demonstration of the helpful and friendly nature of the Seychellois people.

That’s it for now, but I’m sure I will write another update later, hopefully after seeing some adorable hatchlings!

Cheers,

Inka

BREAKING THE TERRAPIN RECORD

On the last week of December 2016, the terrapins of Banyan tree decided that they should stop by to wish us happy New Year as 12 terrapins in one day paid us a visit, breaking the record of 8 terrapins in a day.
As usual, we took our necessary data and dressed them up using nail polish (as a tagging method). The other terrapins must have wanted to dress up too for the New Year celebration as the following two days we ended up with an astonishing total of 32 terrapins! Yes, 32 terrapins in 3 days! I was surprised that we had enough nail polish to cope with the numbers.

After our wonderful visits from our little friends, Rebecca and I became inspired for a New Year resolution with terrapins in mind; we wanted to find out and experiment with new bait to add to their variety of baits and tantalize their reptilian taste buds. Hence, their updated menu involves the previous canned tuna or sardines but now includes fresh fish and escargot (snails), which have been proven to be effective. We are still trying to be creative and think about new baits they may enjoy, so if you have any ideas, feel free to drop a comment and maybe we will test it out and let you know.

We are also working on a plan with the General Manager to be able to remove some invasive species in the wetland, and for now Duck weeds and Water Hyacinth are on top of the list.

water hyacinth to be removed
Duck weed invasion!