The teacher protecting marine turtles in the Seychelles

going green seychelles turtles_00004315
going green seychelles turtles_00004315

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Saving the Seychelles' endangered turtles 02:45

(CNN)The first time Vanessa Didon saw a turtle, she was blown away.

Though she was born and raised in the Seychelles, it wasn't until she started working for the local Marine Conservation Society that she witnessed her first nesting sea turtle.
"Every encounter is like my first one," Didion says. "I go a little bit crazy and then I remember I need to measure the turtle, watch out for what she is doing, so every encounter is like the first one for me."
    Four years ago, she left her job as a science and maths teacher to start a family. Along the way she discovered an unexpected passion for marine conservation. Through a warm smile, she admits that while teaching she'd use any excuse to get her science students outside, encouraging them to play in the dirt and explore.
    "It's always been in me, the environment had been calling me for some time," she says.
    The Seychelles archipelago hosts one of the largest remaining global populations of the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and significant populations of the endangered green turtle.
    In 1994 the Seychellois government made it illegal to harm, kill, or be in possession of sea turtles, including their meat and their eggs. The penalty is up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $37,000.
    But despite the strict laws, Didon says poaching is still a major issue because of the country's traditional appetite for turtle meat.
    A hawksbill female turtle makes her way up the sandy beach in one of the Seychelles outer islands.
    "Some people would say it's in the culture, but in terms of population we know that the turtle population had gone down, and the human population has gone up, so of course there is going to be some sort of problem there," Didon says.
    October marks the beginning of the nesting season in the Seychelles, when female hawksbill and green turtles emerge out of the comfort of the Indian Ocean to lay their eggs on the very beaches where they hatched.
    During the nesting season, Didon and her colleagues can be seen patrolling the beaches where they know turtles might come to nest. If there are no turtles on the beach, they look for tracks and the tell-tale signs that a female has laid her eggs.
    "Sometimes it's very apparent that the turtle has nested," she says. "You can see sand thrown around, but sometimes if you are not too sure, it's quite good to just feel the sand and if you feel loose sand, this gives you an indication that there is a nest there."
    If a nest is found, its precise location is recorded using GPS, to monitor its status until the hatchlings appear after a two-month incubation period.
    Despite no longer teaching in a classroom, Didon says a big part of her job is educating others about the plight of sea turtles and other local marine wildlife. During the off season, she visits schools and hotels to host awareness programs and presentations.
    "I want future generations to be able to see all these lovely things that we have, like the wildlife," she says.
    "People have kids, I have kids, and I would want them to grow up maybe doing the same job that I'm doing."