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Hawksbill Turtle images at Anse Bazarca beach featuring turtles emerging from the surf, nesting and laying eggs

The main wildlife draw in Mahe, at least for me, is the Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) which come ashore during daylight hours to nest in the undergrowth of sandy beaches. On eight visits to Anse Bazarca beach, over a two-week period, we observed fourteen turtles come ashore to nest; an outstanding opportunity for wildlife photography.

The turtles are listed as critically endangered with a decreasing population on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (Ref 3). On land, they are short sighted but sensitive to movement around them and may be sensitive to vibrations and low frequency sounds. Using a long camera lens 300 mm, telephoto and 70 - 200 mm telephoto zoom on Canon cameras with APS-C sized sensors, effectively gives a 480 mm and 110 - 320 mm focal length for the equivalent 35 mm field of view allowing photography of the turtles from a reasonable distance minimising disturbance and stress.

First Encounter

While strolling along the west end of Anse Bazarca beach around ten in the morning – first encountered with a Hawksbill turtle that had come out of the water climbed the beach and was heading into the undergrowth to nest. Several other people were watching from a reasonable distance. After about an hour, the turtle having laid it eggs emerged from the undergrowth intent on returning to the sea.

Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) emerging from the undergrowth Volunteers Seychelles MCSS measuring Hawksbill turtle after nesting

MCSS Data Collection

The image shows Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles (MCSS) researches / volunteers measuring the turtle before it returns to the sea. The Volunteers often count the number of eggs laid, log the position of the nest and for take close photographs on both sides of the face for a database, which the MCSS maintains.

Return to the Sea

After a few minutes of data collection, the turtle returns down the beach towards the sea. The Seychelles Turtles with MCSS is a website set up to report turtle monitoring activities around Mahe Seychelles by the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles.

It took the turtle about one-and-a-half hours to navigate the beach, build a nest, lay its eggs and return to the sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) returning to the sea

Second  Sighting

It was three days' latter when we next visited Anse Bazarca beach, like our first a hawksbill turtle was already nesting in the undergrowth. We watched and photographed it as it MCSS volunteers collected data and when it returned to the sea.

Volunteers Seychelles MCSS measuring Hawksbill turtle after nesting Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) returning to the sea

Photo Essay of a Hawksbill Turtles Nesting Cycle

We decided to get to the beach early the next in the hope of photographing turtles as they came out of the surf. It was around eight-thirty when we arrived at Anse Bazarca. We strolled down towards the water and to our surprise; a hawksbill turtle was in the surf at the water's edge, partly camouflaged by the flat limestone reef rocks on this part of the beach.

As we were within a few metres of it, we slowly backed-off and took some photos from the tree line at the back of the beach.

The sequence of images shows the turtle crawling up the beach, climbing the sand bank, digging a nest, laying 121 eggs as counted by the MCSS volunteers. The volunteers measured and took head and shoulder photos before it returned to the sea. To turn around the turtle had to move forward and to the side, it emerged from the undergrowth it bit further along the sandy bank. Barnacles were hitching a ride on the carapace of this turtle. The time from leaving the surf to returning to the sea took around on-and-half-hours.

About an hour latter a second turtle came ashore, made its way into the undergrowth but returned to the sea without nesting.

Hawksbill Turtle out of the surf and onto the beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) crawling up Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) crawling up Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) climbing the sand bank Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) MCSS volunteers checking nest Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) laying eggs Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) Nest with 121 eggs Hawksbill Turtle after laying starts its journey back to the sea Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) MCSS measuring turtle carapace Hawksbill Turtle climbing over the rocky shore Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle returning to the sea at shore Anse Bazarca beach

Four Hawksbill Turtle in One Day

Two days' latter an we back to the beach. In the early afternoon, we were in the centre of Anse Bazarca beach and we waiting under the shade of trees opposite a gap in the limestone reef rocks for Hawksbill Turtles to come ashore. I spotted one trying to get across the coral rock shelf. It tried several times but was floundering and being turned around several times in the strong surf. It eventually gave up or was frightened off by movement of some people on the beach.

A couple of hours' latter a second turtle came ashore at the west end of the beach, it made its way to the undergrowth but after about fifteen minutes made a hasty retreat to the sea. People on the beach getting moving around or something in the undergrowth must have disturbed it. I photographed the turtle as it scrabbled towards the sea, note the shell pattern on the rear of the carapace.

Hawksbill Turtle trying to cross the coral limestone ridge Hawksbill Turtle retreating after attempting to cross the coral limestone ridge Hawksbill Turtle tries second time to cross the coral limestone ridge Hawksbill Turtle on the sand before the coral limestone ridge Hawksbill Turtle turning around and retreating to the sea Hawksbill Turtle at the coral limestone ridge Hawksbill Turtle coming ashore in the early afternoon Hawksbill Turtle beating a hasty retreat after about twelve minutes

About two hours' latter, one of the MCSS volunteers invited us to observe a turtle that was egg laying at the east end of the beach. I photographed the egg laying, continued to watch from a distance. My wife then spotted another turtle in the surf. There were six of us on the beach so we all got down as low as possible and froze. I started taking photos as it came out of the surf and towards me but stopped when it was full frame, about 3.3m away. I was lying down and it passed me within touching distance:  awesome, breathtaking wildlife photography at its best.

I took my next image as it heading into the undergrowth. Looking at the markings on the rear carapace, it could be the same turtle that had come ashore at the east end of the beach earlier that day (see insert photo). As usual the volunteers measured and photographed the turtles. The sun was now setting providing warm light as the turtles returned to the sea, a fitting end to a very rewarding and memorable day.

First Hawksbill Turtle eggs east end of Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the surf Hawksbill Turtle crawling up the east end of Anse Bazarca Hawksbill Turtle heading into the undergrowth with photo insert Hawksbill Turtle laying eggs east end Anse Bazarca beach Hawksbill Turtle emerging from undergrowth east end Anse Bazarca Hawksbill Turtle being photographed by MCSS researcher and volunteer Hawksbill Turtle returning to the sea east end Anse Bazarca

Final Sightings  

After my experience with the turtle that crawled past me within touching distanced I didn't think I would get better images but I still wanted more. So, we went back four days later but no turtles that day. However, on the next day we arrived at the centre of Anse Bazarca beach around eight to find a turtle in undergrowth digging a nest. After a while a local machete-wielding woman stood right in front of the animal. We made our presence known, as we were not sure of here indent. Eventually the women got bored probably with us watching and she moved off. The turtle then abandoned the first body pit, moved to a new position and started nest building again by digging a new body pit. When it finished, it moved forward made, to turn around, getting very close to the road and then was caught up in some dead tree branches for a short while but eventually made its way back to the sea.

Over the next few days we went back to the beach around eight in the morning and then again late afternoon staying for an hour or so but no sightings. On the fourth day, we arrived at eight, a turtle was already climbing the sand bank. MCSS staff arrived at the beach as the turtle was about to return to the sea. It nested successfully probably taking about one hour forty-five minutes.

The following day was also to be our last on Mahe so we skipped breakfast and arrived at the beach around seven am. We made a small sand castle in the middle of the beach so I could sit down and wait. It wasn’t long before a turtle came out of the surf; I got some good images of it emerging from the surf. It crawled up the beach and passed within 7 metres but ignored me, I was careful not to move. I spotted a second turtle at the east end of the beach. It came ashore went into the undergrowth but abandoned its attempt to nest after fifteen minutes or so only staying ashore for around 30 minutes. The first turtle successfully nested and returned to the sea after one-and-half-hours.

Hawksbill Turtle close to the road Hawksbill Turtle Close-up after nesting Hawksbill Turtle caught-up in dead tree branches Hawksbill Turtle on coral limestone ridge before re-entering the water Hawksbill Turtle close-up of turtle re-entering the water Hawksbill Turtle in the surf ready to come ashore Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on the shore Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on the shore

October 2012 Sightings

Our second visit to Mahe was disappointing as we only sighted four turtles, only photographed one coming ashore, nesting and returning to the sea.

The turtle came ashore just after seven in the morning and climbed the bank at the west end of Anse Bazarca beach. After a minute, it came down the back down but unlike my previous observations where the turtles returned to the sea, it instead crawled parallel to bank towards me until it found a sandy path up the bank. It then climbed up and nested at the top. A local woman watched the egg laying. MCSS volunteers arrived some time latter, measured and photographed the animal before it returned to sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on the shore Hawksbill Turtle nesting on the sandy bank with local watching Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) MCSS volunteers measuring carapace Hawksbill Turtle returning to the sea after nesting

Toxic Food

Hawksbill turtles feed on toxic sponges causing their meat to become toxic and highly dangerous if eaten. Despite this, some of the locals poach and eat meat.

References

Besides the MCSS website, I found the following to be the most useful just search for 'hawksbill' on the websites main page:

(a) National Geographic,

(b) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

(c) Sea Turtle Conservancy and

(d) Sea Turtle Organisation.