The Olive Ridley Project (ORP), a charity working on sea turtle conservation, has a unique opportunity for citizens to help contribute to sea turtle research and protection in Seychelles.
All you would need is a camera! ORP’s Photo-Id initiative is a citizen-driven, data collection project that uses photographs of sea turtles to identify, track and monitor them.
The data helps assess, understand and study sea turtle populations in the Seychelles, and the knowledge acquired is then used to formulate effective conservation strategies for these vulnerable species.
Why is it important to study sea turtles?
Seychelles, being home to 5 species of sea turtles, all threatened with extinction, is a crucial hotspot for sea turtle conservation. The green sea turtle (torti) is endangered and hawksbill (kare) is critically endangered. Not only that, Seychelles is also home to one of the five largest remaining hawksbill turtle populations worldwide.
Unfortunately, sea turtles face a myriad of threats – both natural and anthropogenic such as climate change, plastic pollution, bycatch and poaching. Given the important role they play in regulating oceanic food chains – effectively protecting fish stocks in the ocean, supporting beach ecology, and contributing to tourism in coastal countries – it is important that targeted measures are taken to protect them.
However, for any conservation action, it is important to first know the status quo – understanding the existing sea turtle population is crucial – so that it is easier ot identify any worrying changes like decline in populations, or changes in sex ration, or abandonment of home reefs.
For this, reliable information is needed to study the population structure, distribution, habitat use etc. The starting point for all ecological and conservation studies is often the ability to identify individuals. This allows for accurate estimates of population size and analysis of changes.
What is Photo-ID?
Photo-ID, as the name suggests, is a method of identifying turtles using photographs. It is a cost-effective, non-invasive technique that makes it easy to monitor sea turtles without disturbing them. Since sea turtles have unique facial scales (much like fingerprints) which stay the same over time, Photo-ID identifies individual turtles by comparing their facial scales. This is why it is important to get clear pictures of both sides of a turtle’s face.
Traditionally, sea turtle researchers have used flipper tagging to monitor turtles. However, tagging is costly and can cause stress to the turtle. Also, Flipper tagging projects are usually focused on nesting females as they can be applied during the egg laying process. While this has resulted in a good understanding of nesting turtles and their biology, it constrains the results and does not allow us to understand the entire population, including male and juvenile turtles.
Some projects include male and juvenile turtles, however this requires researchers to move the animal on a boat to apply the tag, causing enormous stress to the turtle. This is where Photo-ID can fill the gap, by identifying sea turtles in the water, without causing any distress to the animal.
Even better, everyone that encounters a sea turtle in Seychelles can participate in the project, simply by taking a photograph of both sides of the turtle’s face. Looking at the facial scales of the turtles, the biologists from ORP can identify individuals.
Facial scales of a hawksbill sea turtle Facial scales of a hawksbill sea turtle
The next time you are out in the crystal clear waters of Seychelles, bring your camera along, and become a scientist for the day!
When you do come across a sea turtle, please remember to always be respectful toward them. Sea turtles are wild animals, fighting for their survival everyday. To ensure that there is no disturbance caused to them, always keep a minimum distance of 2m from the sea turtle and do not chase or touch them. The well-being of sea turtles is the highest priority and under no circumstances should any distress be caused to these unique reptiles.
How to submit a photograph for Photo-ID?
In order to submit a Photo-ID, ORP would require the following information:
● DATE: Knowing the date of the encounter helps keep track of sea turtle movements and growth over different periods of time.
● LOCATION: The dive or snorkel site name (for example: Twin Barges, Mahé Island) helps get an estimate of how many sea turtles exist in a particular area.
● CLEAR PHOTO OF RIGHT SIDE OF THE FACE: Every sea turtle has a unique pattern of facial scales on each side of their face. Turtles are identified based on these facial scales, and therefore a clear photo is required of the right side of a turtle’s face to identify them.
● CLEAR PHOTO OF LEFT SIDE OF THE FACE: Both right and left side of the face are asymmetrical, so having photos of both sides of a turtle’s face would be helpful.
The following Information is optional and allow for better understanding of the local turtle populations:
● SIZE AND SEX: Add size & sex estimate as eg: _70cm_female. Gender can only be determined for adult sea turtles. Females will have a short skinny tail, while males develop a long tail.
● NOTABLE INJURIES OR FEATURES: If you notice an injury, get a photo and provide information. This can be as simple as: carapace damage on the left side.
● BEHAVIOR: Feeding / swimming / sleeping / mating / breathing or fighting with another turtle. All interesting behaviour makes for great data!
Your images should be labeled in the following format:
*T1 stands for no. of turtles seen that day. If multiple, name them in ascending order ie T1, T2, T3..
And submitted to ORP’s sea turtle biologist in Seychelles, via email: email@example.com
You can also get a free turtle adoption!
To make becoming a citizen scientist even more exciting, ORP offers a free turtle adoption for everyone who submits 10 new individuals to our database! A turtle adoption gives you a chance to name the turtle you spotted and you will receive updates per email every time your turtle is re-sighted! This can also serve as a perfect present for your loved ones! Visit ORP’s website (oliveridleyproject.org) for more information on turtle adoptions, or to increase your knowledge of turtle biology!
The Olive Ridley Project (ORP), founded in 2013, is a charity registered in England & Wales, whose mission is to protect sea turtles and their habitats through rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education and outreach. Olive Ridley Project’s sea turtle Photo-ID initiative has been identifying sea turtles and collecting data in Seychelles since