An exhausting but successful Hawksbill turtle nesting season on Cousin Island Special Reserve was topped by the appearance of an extraordinary turtle nicknamed “Stumpy” by island residents.
The Hawksbill turtle arrived on the island devoid of her right rear flipper and part of her carapace. But in spite of her missing flipper she made several attempts at nesting, finally succeeding with the help of the turtle team to lay not one, but two nests!
Turtles use their flippers to swim in the ocean where they spend most of their time. They also use them on land. With the front ones they crawl out of the sea and drag themselves across the beach to nesting sites, and once there, digging what is called a body pit. With the hind flippers, they excavate the pits within which eggs are laid.
“Her right rear flipper was missing and a chunk was taken out of her carapace, but this did not stop her natural instinct to lay,” says Kat one of Cousin’s Turtle Team Volunteers.
“Throughout the season we encountered tagged turtles, on average, 3 times. However she attempted to lay 10 times,” she continues, describing the persistence of the turtle.
“At first we thought she would not be able to complete the laying process because although the damaged flipper went through the motion of digging an egg chamber, no sand was shifted. But with help from us, scooping sand out of the way, she managed to dig an egg chamber and laid her two nests.”
Stumpy’s flipper and the carapace is suspected to have been chomped off by a shark.
This is not the first time that the turtle has been spotted on the island. Female turtles instinctively return to the island where they were born to nest as adults and two years ago she was spotted.
“I remember helping Stumpy to nest,” says Alec another volunteer who was on the island at the time, “Sand to the face but worth it!”
Despite a late start, this season Cousin Island experienced the highest number of nesting female hawksbill turtles in recent years.
The high numbers are obviously good news for the turtle population nesting on Cousin Island, which is one of the world’s longest running hawksbill monitoring programmes, but meant a very exhausting few months for the volunteers and wardens of Cousin Island.
“But it has been incredibly interesting for me seeing the whole lifecycle happen on Cousin Island,” says Kat. “From Sighting turtles mating in the waters around Cousin and watching females emerge to lay eggs on the island to hatchlings pouring out of their nest in their hundreds and then snorkelling and seeing juvenile turtles feeding around the island.”
“It really brings home how important this small island in the Seychelles is for ensuring the continuation of this ancient species. I can only hope in the future there are more and more bumper years like this and the same turtles and their offspring keep returning,” she says.