Sea Turtles of Seychelles

Sea Turtles of Seychelles

Turtles are reptiles, belonging to the same group as snakes, lizards and crocodiles. Their body temperature is generally the same as their surrounding; they have scales, breathe air and lay eggs.

Out of the seven remaining turtle species, five have been recorded in Seychelles waters. These include the Leatherback turtles or torti karanbol (Dermochelys coriacea), Green turtle or torti d’mer (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill or Kare (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Loggerhead or Nanm kayo (Caretta caretta). Sea turtles are protected in Seychelles under the ‘Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act of which the Wild Animals (Turtles) Regulations enacted in 1994, completely bans all disturbances, harvest, sale, possession of turtles, turtle products or eggs. The penalty for committing such an offence under the Wild Animals and Birds Protection (Amendment) Act, 2001, is 2 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of SCR500,000.

Five species of sea turtles are known to forage in the waters of Seychelles. Of these, the hawksbill and the green turtle also nest in significant numbers.

Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)

The hawksbill turtle, known locally as “Kare”, is listed by IUCN as “Critically Endangered” having been slaughtered for centuries for the scales covering its shell (called “tortoiseshell”) considered a semi-precious material.  Hawksbill populations in Seychelles, although much reduced from historic levels, actually comprise one of the five most important national populations of hawksbills remaining on earth, with more than 1,000 females nesting annually.

Hawksbills of the western Indian Ocean are unique in their preference for daytime nesting, in contrast to those elsewhere which nest almost exclusively at night. Their nesting season peaks during the months of October through February. Hatching occurs two months after egg laying. Hawksbills nest most abundantly in the Inner Islands and the Amirantes Group and nesting numbers have increased at those sites where long term protection has been in effect– most notably at Aride, Bird, Cousin, Cousine, Curieuse, North, and Ste. Anne Islands.  Conservation and monitoring programmes are underway at: these and other sites in the Inner Islands; in the Amirantes Islands at Alphonse/St. Francois, D’Arros/St. Joseph, and Desroches; and in the outer islands at Farquhar and Aldabra atolls.

Adult hawksbills which weigh approximately 45-60 kg with carapace lengths of approximately 85-90 cm, are only found near the islands during the breeding season.  Satellite tracking studies have shown that most of the females spend the majority of their adult time in deeper waters of Seychelles distant to the islands (usually 20-200 km from the nesting beach).

People who snorkel and SCUBA dive in Seychelles, however, are likely to encounter juvenile hawksbills measuring 30-70 cm in carapace length adjacent to most islands. Hawksbills are relatively omnivorous in their feeding habits, with the main dietary component being sponge. They take approximately 30-40 years to reach sexual maturity.

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Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

The green turtle, known locally as “Torti”, is listed by IUCN as “Endangered” having been over-exploited for centuries for meat and eggs.  Green Turtle populations in Seychelles are much reduced from historic levels, and in fact nesting populations in the Inner Islands are on the verge of extinction.  Relatively higher levels of nesting occurs in the Amirantes Group; but the most important green turtle nesting populations are those of the southern islands, especially Aldabra, Assumption, Cosmoledo, Astove, and Farquhar atolls.  At Aldabra, which is managed by the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), green turtles have been well protected for more than four decades and nesting numbers have increased significantly.  Green turtles nest at night.  In Seychelles, nesting is year-round. Hatching occurs two months after eggs are laid.

Adult green turtles can weigh up to 200 kg with carapace lengths of ~100-115 cm.  Adult green turtles usually forage several hundred km from their nesting grounds and females tagged nesting on the beaches of Aldabra have been subsequently encountered along the east coast of Africa and Madagascar.

People snorkeling and SCUBA diving in Seychelles may encounter juvenile green turtles at almost any island, but most commonly in the outer islands. Green turtles are herbivores and feed primarily on sea grass. They take approximately 30-40 years to reach sexual maturity.

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Difference between the Green turtle and the Hawksbill turtle
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The green turtle

Carapace: broadly oval
Head: anteriorly rounded
Limbs: single claw on each flipper
Coloration: dorsally black in hatchlings, becomes brown with radiating streaks when immature.
Distribution: all sub- tropical and tropical seas.
Weight: 230kg
Green turtle lays about 100-200per clutch. They return after intervals of 3, 4,5 or more years.

It is much larger than the hawksbill.

The hawksbill turtle

Carapace: oval; width 12cm; straight bird like beak.
Head: relatively narrow
Limbs: front flipper are medium length to other species; two clowns in each flipper
Coloration: dorsally brown [dark to light] in hatchlings, often boldly marked with amber and brown variegation in juvenile and younger adults; underside light yellow to white, sometimes with black markings.
Plastron: four pairs inframarginal scutes.
Distribution: all oceans, tropical waters
Weight: 80kg.

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