Category Archives: community

Scouts day out at the Sanctuary and Heritage Garden

On Friday 24 a group of scouts visited the wetland, Sanctuary at Roche Caiman, and Heritage Garden courtesy of the scout movement and as part of a scout camp for the August holidays.

Every school holiday, the  Seychelles Scouts Association prepares a special programme for children, which involves both scouts and children from the community. The programme is designed to get children off the streets during the school holidays to come together for five days of learning, fellowship and adventure. As part of their five-day activities they participated in Nature Seychelles programmes that use nature therapy on this Friday afternoon. 10 scouts, 4 leaders and 39 children who are not scouts participated. Robin (the green health coordinator) Martin, our community coordinator and Lucina (at the Heritage Garden) planned and carried out all the activities which involved working in the garden and sanctuary and green exercise.

Fun and games  in the outdoors are the basis for green exercise

Activities included stripping the backs off of Cassuarina poles to be used in the Sanctuary for the bird hide, and learning how to pot seedlings and turn over compost  in the garden. Robin even had some of the children moving frog tadpoles, which had made a home in holes dug up for plants, to the safety of the Sanctuary’s ponds. This had the children knee deep in mud and screeching in delight.

Mud is fun!

In the garden, they learnt the names and uses of all the plants. It was amazing to see how much they already knew about some of the local plants particularly spices like Cinnamon and Curry leaf and fruit trees like Soursop, Sugar apple, Star fruit and Golden apple.

Learning how to pot seedlings

Katherine, a volunteer who teaches exercises, introduced some green exercise in one of the clearings in the Sanctuary. Children and leaders all participated and she even had the children devising their own games. It was a Friday afternoon well spent for both visitors and staff.

Let’s go to Cousin: students discover a biological treasure

befriending one of the island's Aldabra giant tortoises

If you are a student who likes wildlife and nature then spending a day in the outdoors rather in class must be exciting. And so it was for two groups of students who visited Cousin Island Special Reserve. The students were from the International School on Praslin, and the Banyan Tree Wildlife Club from the Anse Etoile School in Mahe. They spent their mornings on a tour of the island, interacting with staff and volunteers, learning about the biodiversity on the island  and helping to remove invasive species. Their experience on the island was perhaps best summed up by one of the students, Kelly, who said of the visit, “we were supposed to have maths!”

Banyan Tree Wildlife Club, so called after a 100 year old Banyan Tree in the Anse Etoile school compound, are already nature and wildlife enthusiasts. Altogether 33 children, aged between 8 to 17 accompanied by their teachers visited the island. The students said they wanted to become better informed about the species endemic to their country like Seychelles Magpie robins and Seychelles warblers which can be seen on Cousin.

They also  wanted to learn more about nature reserves themselves; how they function as biodiversity hotspots and their tourism attraction. Justus, 17, said he found his experience on the island very interesting and expressed the wish to work on a nature reserve in the future.

The other students were curious about what it is like to do hands-on conservation: “What birds have you touched?” they asked the wardens. Yannick, 11, said he was very interested in the giant tortoises, and wanted to find out where they nest and why they rest for such long periods. Judelca was also quite fond of the tortoises but less so of the millipedes, while Sheila fell in love with the birds on the island, particularly the white-tailed tropicbirds. Coming from Mahe, the students were also curious to find out how life is on an island. They wanted to know how the social life of the wardens differs from theirs.

The International School  students said that the proximity of Cousin to Praslin made it relatively convenient to visit and more importantly the school felt the kids should be aware of conservation in their local area. During this visit they learnt about invasive plants and helped with the removal of Canavalia cathartica.

Its long been proved that time spent outdoors in nature is beneficial for children’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional stimulation. And these students certainly enjoyed their time on Cousin.

La Digue children “friend” the Flycatcher

We were recently on La Digue to witness the launch of an after-school club called the “Friends of the Flycatcher.” Presently 20-member strong, the club has been formed to involve children in activities that will help conserve the Critically Endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher and its habitat.

The flycatcher is our friend

The club has been set up as part of an advocacy and education project being implemented by Nature Seychelles and the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) under the BirdLife International (Nature Seychelles is BirdLife partner) Preventing Extinctions Programme. The work is being supported by Viking Optical of the UK who are Species Champion.

The flycatcher, known as Vev in Creole, is regarded as an icon of La Digue by the local people. This project is enhancing its protection by engaging local people.  The club will be based at La Digue School and will be run by Josiana of the SNPA as well as three teachers from the school.

At the launch club members were kitted with colourful t-shirts that announce they’ve “friended” the flycatcher and presented with an educational booklet titled Vital Vev – Environmental Activities to Help Protect the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher.

What bird am I? these members are captivated by the booklet

The booklet is full of fun activities that will help club members understand the Vev and other Seychelles wildlife. It includes information and games appropriate for children aged five to fifteen, which will help the children to make the connection between species, their habitats, food and the environment in general.

The headteacher of La Digue School Mr. Michel Madeleine encouraged the members of the club to reach out to their friends and families to influence a wider involvement in the Vev’s protection.

Talking about the flycatcher? these boys cycle home after the launch

In the fight against extinction the Friends of the Flycatcher are in good company because Angry Birds are also rooting for the Vev.

Social Conscience: Nature Seychelles wins Educational Entrepreneurship award

The award was won for the Green Health Programme

About 15 years ago I found a book in my fathers huge library. It was called  “Voluntary Action” by a man called Beveridge and was published way back in 1948.  He launched a visionary mission that  changed  the world  because he saw  voluntary action as “private enterprise, not in business, but in the service of mankind, not for gain but under the driving power of social conscience

Three aspects of this struck me then and drove me to work for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on a full basis:  Social power: the ability to change things in ways small and large which NGOs embody. Social conscience: the sense of responsibility for right and wrong in our society. Social Entrepreneurship: the establishment of business principles in civil society organizations but not for-personal gain.

The difference today compared to 1948 is that heroic leaders of NGOs no longer    seem to be swimming against the tide of history as Beveridge saw it. The ‘driving power of social conscience’ is once again I think at the heart of our society. And what is termed as social entrepreneurship is the engine of this social conscience ensuring that we are not only dealing in words but also action in a sustainable and long term manner.

The award that Nature Seychelles has recently won embodies the spirit of social entrepreneurship – not for personal profit but for the direct benefit of the society. Nature Seychelles has been recognized as the organization with the most entrepreneurial approach to education in Seychelles in 2011 winning the country award for the Educating Africa Pan-African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education for 2011.

Over 350 entries from all over Africa were received by the organizers, Educating Africa and Teach a Man to Fish. This unique competition identifies and celebrates the achievements of social entrepreneurs who understand the role education can play within their communities. Nature Seychelles was invited to enter its Green Health Programme, which teaches people to connect with nature through wellness and healthy lifestyles in natural surroundings. The same programme won the International Innovation Prize from the World Leisure Organization not too long ago.

I believe that the best way to promote protection of the environment is to get people to value nature. I have been involved in implementing environmental programs that provide values of one kind or another to various groups over the years. Recently we have focused on linking nature to people’s physical and mental well being. Once again we have won an international award for these efforts.

Nirmal Shah

This post first appeared in the author’s column in The People

 

How to handfeed a tropicbird in five easy steps

Iona and the tropicbird

Iona and the tropicbird

We often receive injured or lost birds picked up by concerned members of the public. Recently, someone brought a white-tailed tropicbird juvenile which they had found. Although it was quite big it was unable to fly and so it could not go out to look for food. Riaz, our science coordinator took it home to look after it until it could fly. But he had to leave Mahe and go to Cousin Island for a few days and the bird couldn’t fly yet, so he recruited Martin, our community person, and his children to do the job while he was away. Let’s pick up this story from Iona, Martin’s daughter….

Dad came home from work on Friday afternoon with a box which had ‘bird inside be careful’ written on the top. When Dad stopped moving a bird’s head popped out. It was white with a black and white beak and speckly black bits. I got to hold it on my knee while we drove to a fish stall to get some fish for it. Dad said someone had brought it into his work in a box and we got to take it home to look after it for a few days. When we looked inside we saw the bird had a white body with black speckles. We gave it some fish but it wasn’t very interested, so we left it in the corner of the dining room. This morning we heard a lot of noise from the box and it was trying to spread its wings out so we got a bigger box and gently tipped it in.

Guess what I just did… can you gess? No? ok I’ll tell you, I HAND FED THE BIRD!!!!! well, I held the bird (the bird is called a white tailed tropic bird) while dad held the beak open and Sophie fed it. We have to force feed it because it’s a baby and we have to teach it to fly too! I bet dad is thinking “I wish I hadn’t taken that bird home”. Dad thought he would have to give it some fish and it would fly away. We also have to feed it 4 times a day. this is how to hand feed a tropic bird in 5 simpe stages; 1, mash up some fish or squid with some water and put on a plate. 2, gently grab the bird directly down and tuck your thumbs under it’s head. 3, then you wrap it in a old tea towel. 4, you take 3 people one to hold the bird firmly, the other to hold open the beak ( don’t break the beak.) and the last to shove the food down it’s throat, then the 2nd to close the beak. 5, if the bird shakes it’s head it could get very messy, but if it puts it head back and looks likes it’s choking it’s swallowing. repeat until the plate is empty.

embedded by Embedded Video

Martin and the children also left Mahe before the juvenile flew, so they brought it back to the office to be looked after by other staff here. After a couple of days we took it down to the beach next to our office and off it went. Sadly Iona wasn’t here to see it, but she was happy with this ending. Thanks Iona!

A natural solution to society’s problems

Children from the President's village at the Heritage Garden

Children from the President's village at the Heritage Garden

Children love being outdoors. Playing is great and is a chance to explore outside of the boundaries of the home. Not only is it fun for the kids, it’s good for them too. Scientists have discovered that children function better cognitively and emotionally in ‘green environments’, that is places with nature vegetation, than those without.  No wonder that a study of urban children discovered that 96% of them illustrated outdoor places when asked to make a map or drawing of all their favourite place.

Conversely, a lack of routine contact with nature can be detrimental to children’s health and may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This condition has been termed Nature Deficit Disorder by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Louv says we have entered a new era of city- centred life that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, Louv argues that, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt, but those who don’t develop symptoms including attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Nature Seychelles’ Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is a great local green space which we use to tackle this problem head-on. Many children have visited and enjoyed the benefits of being outdoors. The most recent was a group of twenty-five children from the Presidents Village who were brought by local company Applebys Corporate Service Limited to enjoy a taste nature last weekend.

The children were taken on a tour of the nature reserve by Martin Varley, Community and Stakeholder Action Co-ordinator, where they had chance to watch wildlife at first hand and also take part in some fun games with strong environmental messages. They were also taken round the adjacent Heritage Garden which showcases a diverse range of traditionally grown Seychelles fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs.

The experience on the reserve formed the basis of the second part of the visit which was led by Green Health Co-ordinator Robin Hanson, who used the animals on the reserve as a platform for a special natural exercise class for the children, another form of recreation with proven health and wellbeing benefits. The weather stayed kind and at the end of the morning the children were buzzing with excitement about their visit.

“We all know how good it is to be outside,” said Nature Seychelles CEO Nirmal Shah, “Kids are healthier and happier and with a good dose of exercise they can be stronger too. It’s great to be able to work with a local company like Appleby’s to provide a break for these kids from the President’s Village and show then what we have here at Roche Caiman. Everyone is a winner”.

We may not be able to prevent our children from suffering the impacts of our changing society, but it’s good to know that the remedy is close at hand.

This post first appeared in the Today in Seychelles newspaper.

Nature Explorers brings benefits to Children

When Robin Hanson is teaching the Nature Explorers class at Nature Seychelles it sounds exactly like what it is – children having fun. Who wouldn’t have fun jumping like a frog, standing like a tree, and balancing like a heron? Or walking on a fallen tree and listening to the sounds of nature? But apart from having fun the children are exploring their bodies and their minds while cultivating an empathy for nature.

Nature Explorers is part of the Nature Seychelles’ Green Health programme, which is combining yoga and fitness in natural surroundings with activities that help the environment.  Robin, a yoga teacher and conservationist started the programme mid-last year. And now he has began running a dynamic programme for children combining yoga, general fitness and self-discovery.

Classes increase flexibility, strength, discipline, confidence, general positivity and calmness. They encourage children to be ready to learn, create, and develop. “The children are of course having fun. But the core is education,” says Robin. “Children are generally more willing to learn. Adults you have to persuade to do handstands – children have to be persuaded to do the warm up first,” he quips.

A typical class allows for exploration and using one’s imagination. Everything is exercised – from eyes to arms and legs. And classes are non-competitive: every child works at the level they find themselves in. This builds self-esteem and confidence.

the props...

the props...

The setting of Nature Explorers classes within the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman helps in the discovery of nature and various natural materials lend themselves as ready tools to be used for classes. Robin has fashioned pieces of wood as balance beams, stepping stones, toad tokens, basically anything he and mainly the children can imagine to use them for to exercise and have fun. Learning the animal poses, where they live, how they move, how they live together also educates children about nature. Learning the other nature poses such as mountain increases awareness and appreciation of the wonderful healing world around us.

Nature Seychelles will soon be expanding this programme to include children from vulnerable environments.

Check out Robin’s  blog here: http://greenhealthseychelles.wordpress.com/

Saving wetlands

This year’s theme for World Wetlands Day, celebrated on 2 February, is Forests for water and wetlands. The theme has been chosen to correspond with 2011 as the  UN International Year of Forests. The theme asks us to look at the ‘big picture’ of forests and wetlands in our lives. So today we’ll tell you something small about the wetland we manage.

The Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is a 2.9 ha freshwater wetland close to the sea. The site which  resulted from reclamation works on the East Coast of Mahe in the 80s is popular as an outdoors classroom, for bird watching and is now the site, alongside the Heritage Garden, of our green health activities started to increase public interest in conservation.

The site’s vegetation consists of native and introduced coastal trees such as Casuarinas, Badamier (Indian Almond, Terminalia catappa), Kalis Dipap (Tabebuia pallida) and a small number of Takamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum), with invasive reeds such as Typha javanica (Zon) and other dense emergent vegetation. There are two species of mangroves in some parts of the wetland.

Abundant invertebrates dominated by dragonflies and damselflies inhabit the area; they include palm spiders, water skater and crabs. Vertebrates include four species of freshwater fish with an endemic species, frogs, skinks and eleven species of birds mostly herons and some natives and migrants.

The Sanctuary provides school children with a valuable outdoor classroom for their curricula. It is also a recreation area for the general public. Schools and the community around Roche Caiman as well as from elsewhere on Mahe, tourists groups looking for a natural spot within the city limits, and religious groups seeking for the solace granted by nature have been hosted by staff at the wetland. We view this as an opportunity to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general.

discovering pond creatures

discovering pond creatures

Nature Seychelles has undertaken extensive restoration on the site in order to enhance the pre-existing habitats and to create additional habitats so that the wetland can benefit from more species. A boardwalk runs through the Sanctuary with wayside panels and signboards displaying text and illustrations of the ecosystem and facilitating guiding.

wayside exhibtry is used for teaching

wayside exhibtry is used for teaching

The recently constructed Nature X centre is used for our green health activities and has been the meeting point for enthusiasts of our yoga classes.

Originally we had envisaged the Sanctuary as an ‘open air classroom’ to cater for the practical needs of students. But interests have both grown and been varied and a full programme that will cater to these needs, will soon be launched.