Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India

Volume 18 Issue 2

Report on sea turtles in the Seychelles area.

J. Frazier

Nearly two years of field work have been conducted in the Seychelles area, twenty months of this at Aldabra Atoll. All major groups of islands in the Seychelles area have been examined (although some very briefly and superficially). Granitic Seychelles, Amirantes, Providence/Farquhar, Aldabras, and Chagos. Throughout this area, the green turtle is the most celebrated species because it is an important food source, while the hawksbill is the most ubiquitous species. Two other species also occur. The loggerhead is known from several localities, and some turtlemen even say it is not uncommon in some places. One person even claims that the loggerhead breeds on Cerf Island in the Providence group. The leathery turtle occurs at least in the Granitic Islands but is rare. There is as yet no indication that the Riddley turtle occurs in this area. Consequently two species—the green turtle and the hawksbill—are of major importance to the Seychelles area.

In all of Seychelles, which includes thousands of square km of ocean and hundreds of islands, there are at present only two localities where the green turtle breeds in any numbers— at Aldabra and Astove Atolls. Even though the numbers of turtles breeding at these localities are far in excess of any other localities in Seychelles, the overall number of green turtles in the Seychelles is dramatically reduced from what it was in previous years.

Nearly every island surveyed had large scale—often catastrophic—erosion occurring on the beaches. This results, in one way or another, in the deterioration of large areas of nesting habitat. Underlying rock, either pavement of beach rock or large cobbles, is exposed ; steep cliffs at the beach crest are produced. Beaches are built during one prevailing wind, but then suddenly washed out during the next.

This large scale destruction of nesting habitat can have nothing but a very deleterious effect on the turtle populations. Nevertheless, the immense decline of the green turtle throughout this area, which has unquestionably occurred, has probably been caused most by man. Unbelievably large scale destruction has been documented for hundreds of years. Because of the methods used in turtling, the result of this is not only to reduce the adult populations but also to diminish reproduction and recruitment to a dangerously low level.

For many years the urgency of the situation has been pointed out; however, very little action was taken until recently. At present, all that remains of a population that must have numbered hundreds of thousands is probably just a few thousand. The outlook for the green turtle in Seychelles is not very hopeful; the population is now small enough that it could be easily exterminated.

It is not known to what extent the Seychelles population of green turtles moves or migrates. Tagging programmes have produced no returns to date; but, in light of findings from other areas, it is expected that a certain amount of large scale movement may occur in this population. If the Seychelles green turtle is to be given a reprieve, it is imperative that the turtles be protected over their entire range—on both breeding and feeding grounds. This necessitates the co<operation of all nations included in the range of the turtles. Obviously, however, the most important country involved in the protection of the Seychelles green turtle is Seychelles itself.

Protection must occur at several different levels. (1) Government Officials and politicians must be made to realize the urgency of the situation. (2) Protective legislation must be passed and maintained until such time as it is deemed by specialists that the population can again stand cropping. (3) This legislation must be enforced. Local illicit trade and killing of the species (which continues to occur despite a recent law totally protecting the green turtle) must be terminated. Although this will be difficult over an area the size of Seychelles and its outlying islands, something positive must be done to enforce the laws or there is little value in passing them, (4) It may be necessary to enforce the legislation over a wider basis in an attempt to end predation by foreign parties inside territorial waters. (5) Special attention and protection must be given to the important breeding areas that are left. (6) Certainly one of the most important aspects for intelligent maintenance and utilisation of this resource in the future is the education of the people—not only the turtlemen and labours, but also the island managers and owners.

The situation with the hawksbill is somewhat different because this species is taken for its epidermal shields [' tortoiseshell'] and not for food. Data available do not indicate a decrease in the populations of this species at Seychelles. However, in the same way, there is no good evidence to prove that there has not been a decline. The largest threat to this species seems to be the destruction of large amounts of nesting habitat by the process euphemistically called' development'.

It is important that a close watch be kept on the hawksbill fishery so that overexploitation is avoided. It is no less important to set aside sufficient area for the species to breed in and to maintain its numbers ; without this, the hawksbill will simply cease to exist as its nesting areas are absorbed into roads, housing areas, boating and recreational areas. In conjunction with this it is also imperative to fully protect breeding animals and areas.

The six points listed above also apply to this species

Date : 30-06-1976