Six Senses Bhutan
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Six Senses Laamu
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Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
Six Senses La Sagesse
As Lara Kalisch and I dipped below the surface of the bay in front of Six Senses Zil Pasyon, we came face to face with a reef shark, closely followed by a squid. Beautiful blue tang and yellow-striped Moorish idol nibbled at the marine algae on the house reef below.
But we weren’t here to find Nemo. Lara had important work to do. She hadn’t seen Seychilly or Ellie for a few weeks. Lara had a feeling they were out here somewhere, but where? Both are juvenile hawksbill turtles who use the shallow coral reef in front of the main restaurant as a foraging ground and are firm favorites with guests.
Lara is a sea turtle biologist working at Six Senses Zil Pasyon to collect essential data for Olive Ridley Project, which is also based at Six Senses Laamu and Six Senses Zighy Bay. She is creating a photo identification database of the hawksbill and green turtles she encounters around Félicité, one of the inner granitic islands of the Seychelles near the renowned Île Coco Marine Park.
As Lara explained that morning, the Seychelles has one of the largest nesting populations of hawksbills in the world, “They come ashore to nest from October to March, and a unique characteristic of the population here is that they come during the day.” The quiet, protected beaches, surrounded by indigenous forest, allow them a degree of safety, even in daylight. “While they are laying their eggs, they go into a trance like state, so we can measure and identify them, and guests can watch from a distance.”
Once the mamas have laid their eggs, they may head out past the outer islands – as far as Sri Lanka or Kenya – and Lara’s attention turns to hatching. To maximize their chances of survival, baby turtles usually wait until the sand is cool at night to make the trek to the ocean. This lowers the risk of overheating or predators.
As Lara warns, “It is vital not to disrupt the hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean because they need to imprint the signature of the beach. Using this signature and the earth’s magnetic field, the female sea turtles return to the beach many years later to start the cycle over.”
During the Seychelles turtle hatching season, Lara marks the nests so that guests know to steer clear. She checks them every day, relocating the nests only if they are in immediate danger from beach erosion or inundation. “The largest nest we had here this year was 206 hawksbill turtle eggs, and the smallest was around 130 green turtle eggs. The green turtle hatchlings are a bit bigger and fiercer, and their success rate is generally higher on Félicité. The final hawksbill nest we had here hatched on April 12, and the success rate was 92 percent.”
Lara also looks at the unhatched turtle eggs to see if the undeveloped embryos are linked to an extreme weather event or problem with fertility. “We are working with a Alessia Lavigne from Sheffield University in the United Kingdom to see if the egg was unfertilized or fertilized but didn’t develop. This helps us to understand if there is a problem with the reproductive health in the population or if it has to do with the incubation conditions, such as fungus, which can also have an effect.”
When she’s not monitoring the nests or identifying our resident turtles, Lara conducts educational outreach. In June, she celebrated World Sea Turtle Day with resort guests and with the children from an eco-school on the neighboring island of La Digue. By providing fascinating facts and enjoyable experiences, she fosters their curiosity and deepens their understanding of sea turtle conservation and how to behave around nesting turtles.
Naming wild animals can stir up controversy – they are not pets – but Lara explains that it helps her identification project and research, among other benefits, “Olive Ridley Project is a charity and relies on donations to continue their work to protect sea turtles and their habitats. When supporters adopt a turtle, we can update them each time a turtle is resighted.”
So back to the water, and back to Seychilly. “I haven’t seen her for a month so I’m wondering where she’s gone,” says Lara. “Maybe she’s reached sexual maturity and moved on somewhere else. I’d love to put a satellite tag on her.”
And then, as Lara descends to the reef with the ease of a mermaid, the sweet reward. There was Seychilly There was Ellie. And there was a third juvenile, which Lara filmed from a safe distance to identify back at base. It is hard to jump for joy in a pair of fins, but my heart filled with awe that – despite all of the challenges facing our oceans – today is a spectacularly good day.
Jessica Swales visited Six Senses Zil Pasyon in August 2023.
Hike up through the jungle to Top Hill and you’ll pass the awe-inspiring Coco de Mer, which is endemic to just two islands. Let Sustainability Manager Lucie Bennett lead the way as, trust me, she’s best at spotting spiderwebs across the path.