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Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles
Between a root and a hard exit


Relaxing in my house on a Sunday afternoon with a good book and a cup of tea is not an unusual place to find me, nor sadly is it unusual for me to be disturbed from my spot of peace and quiet. Usually however the interruptions come from wardens, volunteers, my work phone ringing or a Seychelles Fody sneaking in to my kitchen. This Sunday however my tranquil afternoon was interrupted by a Hawksbill Turtle.

Cousin Island is one of the largest and most important nesting sites for the Hawksbill Turtle in the Western Indian Ocean. The turtles on Cousin (and Seychelles) are also famous for nesting during the day, nearly everywhere else the turtle nesting is nocturnal. This makes Cousin Island Special Reserve one of the best places in the world to be able to watch a Turtle haul herself out of the sea, up the beach, around the natural obstacles before digging her nest chamber and depositing up to 220 eggs before very carefully covering the nest and hauling herself back to the water.

Sunday’s turtle did all this, except the part where she was meant to avoid natural obstacles. Instead she found herself climbing over, falling through and getting stuck in the root system of the Large Casuarina Tree on my doorstep!

However dear reader, do not fear for all will eventually end happily! Having fallen through the roots (a drop of about a foot/30cm) she promptly tried to squeeze out through a gap far too small, realising she was perhaps stuck and not being able to find any other exits the poor Turtle continued to nest, digging her egg chamber and depositing her eggs. I fear her offspring may have a spot of difficulty finding their way back to the Ocean. Luckily our Turtle team is there to help if necessary.

However help was on hand. Whilst turtles are laying their eggs they enter a sort of trance and this is when the Turtle Team on Cousin Island tags them and collects all the data they need. Seeing as this turtle was well out of reach, the best we could do for her was clear some roots and make an exit available for her.

After burying her eggs we endured a painful 50 minutes watching (from a distance) as she searched for a exit and shuffled about before eventually managing a u-turn and finding a now perfect Turtle sized escape route. A quick look over her shoulder at what could have been her prison and she pulled herself swiftly, and I hope happily, back to the Ocean.

Now all we have to do is wait and hope that the Hatchling follow the correct path to the Ocean and don’t try to lose themselves amongst the roots!

Tom Hiney