Thirty-five years ago, the first green turtle hatchlings were flown from Europa and Tromelin to Reunion Island in order to fill the tanks of a special ranch called “Ferme CORAIL”. This ranch was set up close to shore on an old lime production site at the northern entry of St Leu. From 1977 to 1997, it brought in hatchlings to grow them to a sufficient consumable size. The idea behind it was to replace the consumption of wild green turtles, whose population showed an alarming decline, with ranched individuals. From the beginning the project raised the opposition of associations for animal rights and ecologists. Yet, at that time, the ranch was built with the aim of managing a natural resource and creating employment.
The controversy lasted for 20 years, until the environment ministry decided that the ranch activities were incompatible with the French engagement in environmental protection. The Regional Council was thus faced with the question of the future of the site it had acquired in 1989. IFREMER and the Bourbonese Society of Aquaculture then suggested converting the ranch into a centre to develop and highlight the conservation and research studies that had begun with the construction of the ranch.
This project received the agreement from National and Regional councils and, after many years of construction and studies, it became Kelonia, the observatory of marine turtles.
The centre now develops many actions for public awareness on the natural and cultural heritage of Reunion Island associated with marine turtles. And in parallel, it conducts scientific studies with IFREMER and other research centres all over the southwest Indian Ocean.
This year Kelonia wanted to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the presence of marine turtles with a sight definitely turned toward the future. Several animations took place, starting with the Marine Turtles’ day over the first weekend of July. More than 2500 persons attended the event, which was punctuated with several artistic animations throughout the site: Kapla’s construction, old board games and sand coloured painting enchanted as much the youngsters as the parents.
It was also an occasion to present the new exhibit on Europa, the most southern Eparses Island, on which green turtle population monitoring started to supply the CORAIL ranch on Reunion in the late 1970s. For this special occasion, a special guest, George Hughes, a well known conservationist in South Africa, IUCN member for the commission of protected areas and also one of the pioneers in studying marine turtles in the SWIO back in the 1960s, came to present the new feature movie “Europa: 40 years of scientific adventures”. The documentary illustrated a mission during which three generations of researchers met to share knowledge and experience.
It was also the opportunity for Kelonia to present two new applications for its website, smartphone and touchpad. The objective is to make more accessible to the public some of the study and awareness tools. The photo-ID programme has been developed with the help of divers, who willingly shared their photos of marine turtles to complete the database, particularly head profiles used in the identification of the individuals. The programme uses the scale pattern of the head profile to identify each individual turtle. Thus the web-application is accessible for divers who wish to identify a turtle and see whether the individual has already been saved in the database or is a new one.
The other application has been developed for smartphones and touchpads. Inspired from the “snake and ladders” board game, this serious game initiates the user to the biology of marine turtles, as well as the threats they have to face. Two eveing events were dedicated to the presentation of these applications and allowed for feedback and later improvement.
Readers can find the photo-ID application on the following links:
This feature was contributed by:
Assistante Pédagogique et Scientifique
Kélonia, l'observatoire des tortues marines
46 rue du Général de Gaulles
97436 St Leu