Powering conservation on Cousin Island, Seychelles: Please support our Indiegogo campaign

Nature Seychelles and ClimateCaring have just launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to raise much needed funds for solar installation on Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles.

We urgently need to replace the diesel powered generator on the island with a Photovoltaic Solar Power system to bring multiple benefits including reducing our CO² emissions and saving money to fund continuing research, extra staffing, island maintenance, boat repairs, energy security and much more.

We have 44 days to reach our GBP 25,000 goal and we need your help!

Please go to the Indiegogo campaign page (link below), make a donation if you can (thank you!) and share the page widely with your networks. Let’s get Cousin on solar power!

Thank you very much.

Indiegogo link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/powering-conservation-on-cousin-island-seychelles

Why we need to switch to solar power:

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#islands2014 Cousin Island: A conservation Success Story

Cousin Island Special Reserve in Seychelles managed by Nature Seychelles  is “one of the world’s great conservation success stories.” It is no ordinary island.

Cousin conservation history began in 1959 when Dr. J. H. Crook visited Cousin in 1959. His discovery that the Seychelles Warbler population which was confined to Cousin had been reduced to less than 30 birds prompted him to recommend turning the island into a nature reserve. Cousin at the time had been cleared of its native vegetation and planted wall to wall with coconuts. Pigs, chickens and cattle had been introduced. An annual crop of up to 6,000 Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus, Fouke in Creole) chicks were taken for food.By the early 1960’s the island yielded only 13 tons of copra annually. About 4,000 fouke, tobacco, salted fish, turtles, pigs and poultry were still taken off the island every year.In 1968 after 7 years of discussions the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP), now BirdLife International, purchased the island for what seems like petty cash today – 16,452 GBP. Soon after, the Seychelles Government designated the island as a Nature Reserve under the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act and in 1975, Cousin was designated a Special Reserve. This included the marine area up to 400m beyond the High Water Mark. (Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles Chief Executive, Zwazo 26, Adding Value: Replacing Coconuts with Conservation)

It has taken 40 years of hard work to transform this former coconut plantation into the thriving nature reserve it is today. This video by www.liammartinfilm.com, highlights Cousin’s history and conservation successes.

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All in a day’s work

Watch this video of the Reef Rescuers ( Nature Seychelles’ Coral Restoration project on Praslin Island) as they perfom their daily underwater tasks. It’s all in a days work!

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Reef Rescuers Fishy Cleaners

Here is another video from the reef rescuers on Praslin. They say:

“During our mid-water coral nursery monitoring, we have a little help from fishy cleaners.

In this video, a school of Forktail Rabbitfish (Siganus argenteus) is busy at work eating the algae that compete with our nursery corals, providing a helping hand (or mouth) in our daily cleaning maintenance. Due to the location of the GoPro camera, you can almost feel you are a rabbitfish in the school. A parrotfish gets too close to the camera for identification, but it seems an Eclipse Parrotfish (Scarus russelii). Towards the end, the boat engine scares away the school.”

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Reef Rescuers Humphead Parrotfish Encounter

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Here is nice little video from the reef rescuers on Praslin. The reef rescuers say “During our coral nursery monitoring visits, we often encounter solitary or small groups of Humphead Parrotfish, Bolbometopon muricatum. These peaceful giants come for a free meal when we clean the nurseries from algae and barnacles. We feel fortunate to share our diving time with such charismatic megafauna.

The Humphead Parrotfish is the largest species of parrotfish in the world, with record size of up to 1.5 m long, weight over 50 kg and maximum lifespan of at least 40 years. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, classifies the Humphead Parrotfish as threatened due to overfishing.”

Enjoy.

And here is an article about the project from Deutche Welle: Nursing Indian Ocean coral reefs back to life

New Research shows no link between mercury exposure and autism

fishing is an important industry and a primary source of nutrition

Fishing is an important industry and a primary source of nutrition

The potential impact of exposure to low levels of mercury on the developing brain — specifically by women consuming fish during pregnancy — has long been the source of concern and some have argued that the chemical may be responsible for behavioral disorders such as autism.

However, a new study that draws upon more than 30 years of research in the Republic of Seychelles reports that there is no association between pre-natal mercury exposure and autism-like behaviors.

“This study shows no evidence of a correlation between low level mercury exposure and autism spectrum-like behaviors among children whose mothers ate, on average, up to 12 meals of fish each week during pregnancy,” said Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study which appears online today in the journal Epidemiology. “These findings contribute to the growing body of literature that suggest that exposure to the chemical does not play an important role in the onset of these behaviors.”

The debate over fish consumption has long created a dilemma for expecting mothers and physicians. Fish are high in beneficial nutrients such as, selenium, vitamin E, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty acids; the latter are essential to brain development. At the same time, exposure to high levels of mercury has been shown to lead to developmental problems, leading to the claim that mothers are exposing their unborn children to serious neurological impairment by eating fish during pregnancy. Despite the fact that the developmental consequences of low level exposure remain unknown, some organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have recommended that pregnant women limit their consumption of fish.

The presence of mercury in the environment is widespread and originates from both natural sources such as volcanoes and as a byproduct of coal-fired plants that emit the chemical. Much of this mercury ends up being deposited in the world’s oceans where it makes its way into the food chain and eventually into fish. While the levels of mercury found in individual fish are generally low, concerns have been raised about the cumulative effects of a frequent diet of fish.

The Republic of Seychelles has proven to be the ideal location to examine the potential health impact of persistent low level mercury exposure. With a population of 87,000 people spread across an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, fishing is  both an important industry and a primary source of nutrition — the nation’s residents consume fish at a rate 10 times greater than the populations of the U.S. and Europe.

The Seychelles Child Development Study — a partnership between URMC, the Seychelles Ministries of Health and Education, and the University of Ulster in Ireland — was created in the mid-1980s to specifically study the impact of fish consumption and mercury exposure on childhood development. The program is one of the largest ongoing epidemiologic studies of its kind.

“The Seychelles study was designed to follow a population over a very long period of time and focus on relevant mercury exposure,” said Philip Davidson, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Seychelles Child Development Study and professor emeritus in Pediatrics at URMC. “While the amount of fish consumed in the Seychelles is significantly higher than other countries in the industrialized world, it is still considered low level exposure.”

The autism study involved 1,784 children, adolescents, and young adults and their mothers. The researchers were first able to determine the level of prenatal mercury exposure by analyzing hair samples that had been collected from the mothers around the time of birth, a test which can approximate mercury levels found in the rest of the body including the growing fetus.

The researchers then used two questionnaires to determine whether or not the study participants were exhibiting autism spectrum-like behaviors. The Social Communication Questionnaire was completed by the children’s parents and the Social Responsiveness Scale was completed by their teachers. These tests — which include questions on language skills, social communication, and repetitive behaviors — do not provide a definitive diagnosis, but they are widely used in the U.S. as an initial screening tool and may suggest the need for additional evaluation.

The mercury levels of the mothers were then matched with the test scores of their children and the researchers found that there was no correlation between prenatal exposure and evidence of autism-spectrum-like behaviors. This is similar to the result of previous studies of the nation’s children which have measured language skills and intelligence, amongst other outcomes, and have not observed any adverse developmental effects.

The study lends further evidence to an emerging belief that the “good” may outweigh the possible “bad” when it comes to fish consumption during pregnancy. Specifically, if mercury does adversely influence child development at these levels of exposure then the benefits of the nutrients found in the fish may counteract or perhaps even supersede the potential negative effects of the mercury.

Source: http://esciencenews.com/articles/2013/07/23/study.no.link.between.mercury.exposure.and.autism.behaviors

Rare sighting of the pelagic sea snake at Baie Ternay

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

GVI Seychelles have reported a rare sighting in shallow coastal waters of the Pelagic Sea Snake (Pelamis platura). Members of the volunteer organisation caught sight of the snake when returning from a dive at Baie Ternay on the main island of Mahe. Found in open seas at depths of about 10m, and helpless on land, these sea snakes are not ordinarily seen. And when they are, its usually because they have drifted ashore after rough weather or when sick or injured. This was probably the case with this individual as it was found after a sustained period of strong winds and rough seas, Chris Mason Parker the GVI Seychelles Country Director told Today in Seychelles.

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

“The individual we saw in Baie Ternay briefly attempted to sliver up the beach, but after struggling for a few minutes, turned back to the water and was last seen heading back to see,” he said.

More info on the species can be found on the IUCN species list

The Orchid and the Hotel

Image source: http://angraecums.blogspot.com/2013/02/oeoniella-polystachys.html

The Orchid

Recent plans for a proposed resort development at Police Bay ( see: http://goo.gl/hVe5N  and    http://goo.gl/tM5Sw) has attracted negative public comments. The findings of the “Assessment of Areas of High Biodiversity for Informed Decision Making in Future Land Use Planning and Management” a government of Seychelles project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has revealed that areas above the coastal strip of Police Bay, especially sites above 100 metres deserve to be protected. An orchid occurring in the Western Indian Ocean islands, Oeoniella polystachy (and probably not O. Aphrodite as was reported)  has been found there in an area known as Mont Corail. This orchid has been known from Seychelles but is uncommon.  It can be cultivated quite easily (and indeed has been all over the world) and Nirmal Shah of Nature Seychelles has  recommended that its propagation forms part of a conservation plan for the area.. Information on the two species of these orchids can be found below courtesy of the Mauritius Herbarium via MWF.

Oeoniella aphrodite (Balf. & S. Moore) Schltr.

Distribution: Rodrigues (Mauritius)

Flowering Period: Late October to mid-November

This is the most endangered of the remaining Rodriguean orchids. Small populations are found on rock faces and, occasionally as an epiphyte, at Grande Montagne, Mt. Cimetière and on Cascade Pigeon. Fruiting success is extremely low, as is recruitment from seed. A specimen of this taxon is recorded having grown at Conservatoire Botanic de Brest, France, but it seems no more; another formerly grew at the Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Ireland.

Oeoniella polystachys (Thouars) Schltr.

Distribution: Mauritius, La Réunion, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles

Flowering period: Late July to late November (rarely April)

This species was considered synonymous with Oeoniella aphrodite, but its inflorescence and flower structure are different. Oeoniella polystachys is endemic to the Western Indian Ocean islands, bearing white flowers of about 2-3 cm across, blooming for about a month. It is a common species on Madagascar, occurring mostly in the east coast. In Reunion is found on the northern dry forests, where it is populations are declining.  In Mauritius, the best population is found on Ile aux Aigrettes, another large population is found at Bras D’Eau. Scatter plants exist in  other areas.

Image source: http://angraecums.blogspot.com/2013/02/oeoniella-polystachys.html

Cousin island marine monitoring – over 100 surveys done

This past week the Nature Seychelles staff of Cousin Island were hard at work completing an ambitious marine monitoring project. We began the week by acknowledging that the plan we set out would take a solid team effort to achieve. Everyone based on Cousin was involved, providing boat skipping, diving, and support, as well as the Reef Rescuer team based on Praslin, who supplied necessary equipment. The team entered this week of bi-annual reef monitoring with excitement to get underwater and determination to complete the data collection in the allocated period. It proved to be a successful week as five divers jumped right into the work with enthusiasm. The island’s science officer along with two marine research assistants and two of the Cousin Island wardens completed over 100 surveys at three different sites around Cousin island in just six dives!

Everyone based on Cousin were involved

Everyone based on Cousin was involved

The survey sites were distributed around the island, and selected to provide a sampling of various benthic composition. As such, the different locations made for quite a variety of diving conditions. Some (read, a few) dives were calm and lovely with clear waters, sunshine filtering in, and schools of friendly Parrotfish flitting about.  Others (read, most) resembled what I imagine it would be like to dive in the spin cycle of a washing machine, whirling and churning and sending Parrotfish flying. However, the divers persevered, executing their work with an excitement that was matched only by the size of the swell, rocking and rolling beneath their lovely dive boat.

The survey sites were distributed around the island

The survey sites were distributed around the island

The surveys completed throughout the week will allow the research team to compile a comprehensive report, detailing the density and diversity of target fish and invertebrate species as well as coral coverage of both adult and juvenile stages. This report can be used in comparison to a similar, more detailed report in the 2009. The results will hopefully demonstrate an improvement in the health of the marine life found in the 400-metre special reserve zone surrounding Cousin Island, which were heavily damaged in the 1998 el Nino bleaching event.  As the researchers continue to write the report, they may head back into the water to collect additional data as necessary, however this past week was a great success and a wonderful show of teamwork as the staff succeeded in their ambitious fieldwork goals.

Special Turtle lays eggs – with a little help from her friends

An exhausting but successful Hawksbill turtle nesting season on Cousin Island Special Reserve was topped by the appearance of an extraordinary turtle nicknamed “Stumpy” by island residents.

The Hawksbill turtle arrived on the island devoid of her right rear flipper and part of her carapace. But in spite of her missing flipper she made several attempts at nesting, finally succeeding with the help of the turtle team to lay not one, but two nests!

Turtles use their flippers to swim in the ocean where they spend most of their time. They also use them on land.  With the front ones they crawl out of the sea and drag themselves across the beach to nesting sites, and once there, digging what is called a body pit. With the hind flippers, they excavate the pits within which eggs are laid.

She was missing her right rear flipper and part of her carapace

She was missing her right rear flipper and part of her carapace

“Her right rear flipper was missing and a chunk was taken out of her carapace, but this did not stop her natural instinct to lay,” says Kat one of  Cousin’s Turtle Team Volunteers.

“Throughout the season we encountered tagged turtles, on average, 3 times. However she attempted to lay 10 times,” she continues, describing the persistence of the turtle.

 ”At first we thought she would not be able to complete the laying process because although the damaged flipper went through the motion of digging an egg chamber, no sand was shifted. But with help from us, scooping sand out of the way, she managed to dig an egg chamber and laid her two nests.”

But with help she laid two nests

Stumpy’s flipper and the carapace is suspected to have been chomped off by a shark.

This is not the first time that the turtle has been spotted on the island. Female turtles instinctively return to the island where they were born to nest as adults and two years ago she was spotted.

“I remember helping Stumpy to nest,” says Alec another volunteer who was on the island at the time, “Sand to the face but worth it!”

Despite a late start, this season Cousin Island experienced the highest number of nesting female hawksbill turtles in recent years.

The high numbers are obviously good news for the turtle population nesting on Cousin Island, which is one of the world’s longest running hawksbill monitoring programmes, but meant a very exhausting few months for the volunteers and wardens of Cousin Island.

“But it has been incredibly interesting for me seeing the whole lifecycle happen on Cousin Island,” says Kat. “From Sighting turtles mating in the waters around Cousin and watching females emerge to lay eggs on the island to hatchlings pouring out of their nest in their hundreds and then snorkelling and seeing juvenile turtles feeding around the island.”

 ”It really brings home how important this small island in the Seychelles is for ensuring the continuation of this ancient species. I can only hope in the future there are more and more bumper years like this and the same turtles and their offspring keep returning,” she says.