The effects of climate change pose a greater threat to hawksbill turtles in Seychelles than poaching, according to a local conservationist.

Now that the nesting season has ended, conservation officials, including Ashley Pothin, an official from the environment ministry, are refocusing their attention towards the impact climate change is having on the Seychelles turtle population.

“The most worrying thing now is sea level and beach erosion. We had to relocate at least five nests threatened by high tides and waves. With the climate change, erosion of the coast is becoming a big concern,” Pothin told Seychelles News Agency.

An increased monitoring presence on the beaches mostly frequented by turtles has also helped to deter poachers. According to Pothin, there are now fewer poaching incidents compared to five years ago.

Hawksbills turtles are found throughout the world’s tropical oceans, predominantly coral reefs. They are listed as critically endangered on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

During the turtle nesting season, which starts in October and ends in March, conservation officers closely monitor beaches all over Seychelles on a daily basis. Once a nest has been marked, officers will continue to monitor it to ensure it isn’t disturbed by humans or predators. After the little turtles are hatched, they are counted and recorded, and then returned to the sea.

The environment ministry has said that the help of other organisations is crucial for turtle conservation, and several organisations are working tirelessly to protect these turtles. One such outfit is the Seychelles branch of Save Our Seas Foundation.

Save Our Seas Foundation is a global ocean conservation organisation and runs a research centre on D’Arros Island and St Jospeh Atoll. Beaches there are very important places for mother hawksbill turtles to lay their eggs during nesting season. Turtle conservation legend, Dr Jeanne Mortimer, known locally as Madame Torti, has spent nearly 15 years managing a turtle-monitoring programme there, training Seychellois monitors and mentoring students.

Another organisation working closely with the ministry is Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, a non-profit that promotes marine conservation through education and research, and it also runs a number of conservation programmes. The organisation monitors nesting beaches in the south of Mahé, the largest island of Seychelles.

Sea turtles are protected under the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act in Seychelles, and the poaching and killing of the sea creatures are illegal. Anyone found guilty of possessing turtle meat can be fined or sentenced to prison.